DJ Triumphs in Battle of Big Hitters to Complete Set of WGCs
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
CRASH, BANG, WALLOP! It was the final that everybody wanted to see, Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm going head to head for the WGC-Dell World Matchplay championship, with each man trying to outhit the other. Drives of 350 yards were routine - we saw a display of power hitting that has never before been witnessed.
Unfortunately, we also discovered that Rahm still has a lot of work to do if he is to seriously challenge Johnson and Rory McIlroy to become the game's dominant force. His driving was as impressive as ever, but his putting let him down badly - and so did his temperament. The 22-year-old Spaniard made a dreadful start and found himself five down after eight holes, at which point he was three over par and blaming everybody but himself.
He failed to win either of the first two holes, missing 15-foot birdie putts while Johnson had birdie putts of 92 and 42 feet. Rahm then missed a six-foot par putt after finding trouble off the third tee. That started a stretch in which Johnson won five of six holes to take command of the match. Three of those holes were decided by Rahm bogeys, and he grew more frustrated with every passing hole.
But Rahm won the ninth and 10th holes thanks to Johnson bogeys. The Dustinator got things back on track when he won the par-five 12th. By then, Rahm had nothing to lose and birdied the 13th, 15th and 16th holes to reduce Johnson's lead to just one hole.
By then, the world No1 was hanging on and could hardly believe that he was taken to the 18th hole for the second time in the day (he had earlier beaten Hideto Tanihara of Japan one up in the semi-final, while Rahm had beaten Bill Haas 3&2).
Rahm drove over the green at the 18th and was unable to make a birdie, giving Johnson the match. It wasn't a classic final but, in the end, it was plenty dramatic enough.
Johnson denied that he had taken his foot off the gas. "I felt like I was still attacking the golf course,” he said. “You’ve got to make putts. And I felt like, especially this afternoon, it was really difficult, the wind was blowing, the greens got fast. So it was really tough to make putts.”
Rahm, meanwhile, said his tee shot on the par-four ninth – 374 yards that set up a conventional par – helped calm him down. "Once I collected myself after that tee shot on the ninth, things went a little easier,” Rahm said. “I was just waiting for Dustin to make a couple of mistakes. Luckily for me, he did, which he doesn’t usually do, and I was able to take advantage of that. And my confidence and my emotions came back to normal.”
Johnson completed an amazing week in which he played 112 holes and never trailed at any point, winning the fifth WGC of his career. “Pretty awesome,” said Johnson. “Definitely kind of cool to be the first one to win all four. These are the biggest events besides the majors, with the best golfers in the world.”
While Dustin can’t match Tiger Woods’ success rate at the WGCs – Tiger has won 18 – he now has the second most WGC wins of anybody other than Woods and is the only man to have won all four of them. “I feel like there will be some more,” he said. “But I’m very, very pleased with this. It's impossible to win every week. I know that. Obviously I've won my last three. But I'm just going to have to keep working hard. Keep working on the things that I'm working on right now. And just keep trying to get better. Like I was saying before, being No 1, it kind of drives me to work harder and to get better. There's still a lot of room for improvement in my game. So I'm just going to keep working on it."
Rahm said that luck was not on his side. "Anytime I did something, if it could go wrong, it just went wrong," he said. "The front nine was just a disaster. Luckily for me, DJ missed a couple of shots on nine and 10. I made a good par on nine, great up and down on 10. And that got me going pretty good. Too bad on 12. On 13 I said, that's it. No more complaining. No more whining, let's just get it done and almost did. Made a great birdie there on 15 and 16. I tried to hang on as much as I could. It's just golf. It won't be the first or the last time. And I'm sure some day I'll be back here maybe on top."
In the consolation match, Haas beat Tanihara 2&1, but the highlight of the day came at the seventh, a 207-yard par three, where the Japanese golfer recorded a magnificent hole in one.
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