Dustin Johnson Makes Bold Winning Statement Ahead of US Open

By: | Mon 11 Jun 2018 | Comments


IN THE end they almost all managed to “beat the clock” at Diamond Country Club near Vienna, and nobody more so than Finland’s Mikko Korhonen. The 37-year-old created a little bit of European Tour history when he won the inaugural Shot Clock Masters. It was the first victory of his career and he did it in style at a tournament where every player found himself being timed on every shot he played throughout the week.

They were given 50 seconds for the first man to play his approach, chip or putt or tee shot at a par three, and 40 seconds to hit a drive on a par four or par five, and for the players hitting second or third in his group. And guess what? It speeded up play, with groups of three completing 18 holes in around four hours during the first two rounds - an improvement of around 40-50 minutes on the time it normally takes. Players were also given the option of calling two time extensions per round.

Failure to hit those targets resulted in a one-shot penalty. Only four players were handed penalties over the course of the week and most of the field were full of praise for the event.

The tour has been threatening to do something to stamp out slow play for far too long and was actually in danger of being penalised for taking too long to act! This was a first step in the right direction, and it has worked.

Korhonen has been enjoying the best season of his life, with a third-place finish at the Tshwane Open and two other top-15 finishes, including a tie for 15th at the recent BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth.

He began the final round with a five-shot lead and it was quickly cut to three. He also had to cope with two weather delays. This is a man who has been to qualifying school 12 times, so he knows all about adversity, but he held his game together, shot a final round of 69 for a 16-under-par total to beat Scotland’s Conor Syme by six shots. He won the final stage of qualifying in 2014 and has kept his card ever since, but this was his first win in 146 attempts.

“I didn’t dare to think about winning,” he said. “When my last shot had landed on the 18th green, then I knew I had like five or six putts of cushion. It feels great, beautiful. It’s been a long wait so it feels so good. Yes, I have thought that I might not be in this position. I’ve been up there a couple of times and couldn’t do it at those times but now I’m so happy and relieved that I have done it.

“It’s not easy to win, especially not the first win, so I’m really happy to have done it. I have no words, it’s so good.”

Syme holed a huge putt on the last hole to take second place on his own and claim his best European Tour finish after making just three of 12 cuts so far in his rookie season.

Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts, Frenchman Raphaël Jacquelin, South African Justin Walters and England's Steve Webster were then at nine under.

Korhonen's lead was cut to four shots by the time he teed off, with Jacquelin birdieing the first, fourth and sixth. A stunning approach by Jacquelin on the seventh then moved him into double figures but that was the closest anyone would get to the leader.

He struck a beautiful approach from the rough on the third and after an 80-minute delay returned to hole a 12-footer for a birdie on the fifth and then hit a glorious tee-shot to the sixth to lead by six.

Korhonen's bogey-free run was ended after 62 holes on the ninth after he hit a tree with his second but he led by seven after an approach to 10 feet on the tenth. He failed to get up and down from the sand on the 12th after another 38-minute delay but put an approach to four feet on the next and then parred his way home.

Syme birdied the third, fifth and sixth but made back-to-back bogeys before recovering with a gain on the tenth and producing that big finish.

Jacquelin could not maintain his early pace and dropped shots on the 14th and 15th before also birdieing the last.

Walters bogeyed the second but four birdies in a row from the fourth saw him emerge as the closest challenger. A double-bogey on the next halted that momentum and he came home in level par.

Playing partners Colsaerts and Webster both signed for rounds of 67 early in the day.

English pair Ashley Chesters and David Horsey, Swede Peter Hanson, Welshman Oliver Farr and Spaniard Scott Fernandez were eight under.

PGA TOUR

DUSTIN JOHNSON tuned up for this week’s US Open in sensational fashion, holing a shot from 170 yards at the final hole to win the St Jude Classic by six shots and, in the process, reclaiming the top spot in the world rankings.

Johnson struck a nine iron from the rough and looked on in disbelief as it hit the green and disappeared into the hole for eagle. Initially, he hadn’t realised what had happened.

"By the reaction from the crowd, I thought it might have gone in, but I couldn't see it so it was kind of tough," said Johnson after shooting 66. "What a cool way to end.”

It crowned a dominant final round performance from Johnson. He defeated Andrew Putnam, having begun the day tied with his fellow American at 15 under. Although he made just one birdie in his first 12 holes, Johnson was in complete control, taking a two-shot lead after the first hole.

He hit only 12 greens in regulation but putted superbly all day. He was still two in front on the 12th, where a long putt came up fully 15 feet short, but he rolled the putt in for a par and was in complete control from that point.

"That was a big putt," Johnson said. "That kind of gave me the boost I needed to finish out the round. Sometimes those par putts are just as big if not bigger than the birdie putts. Kind of gave me the extra boost I needed to finish the round.”

He hadn’t planned to play in this event, doing so only because he had been unhappy with his putting  "I felt like I struggled quite a bit with the putter the last three or four events," Johnson said. "To come here and to play the way I did, I felt like I putted better this week.”

The victory takes him to second in the FedExCup standings and saw him overtake Justin Thomas at the top of the world rankings.

"Winning this week I think is a bigger confidence booster than being No. 1 in the world," Johnson said. "Playing the way I did all week, knowing everything that was on the line gives me a lot of confidence. I think it was a big win, it was a big statement."


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