Dustin Johnson's Struggle at Harbour Town Showcases Challenge of Winning
THOSE of you who follow yours truly’s tournament previews and predictions will have been thinking: “What an idiot that Clements bloke is” as Dustin Johnson entered the back nine at the RBC Heritage with the tournament seemingly in his pocket. Your correspondent had said that the tournament at Harbour Town Golf Links at Hilton Head could not possibly be won by a bomber. And yet here was one of the biggest hitters in the game looking like he was going to do precisely that.
Johnson had somehow managed to bring the course to its knees for 64 holes. Maybe there was another way to play it after all. Then the course got its own back. And how.
It all changed in a matter of minutes starting on the 11th hole of the final round; A 436-yard dogleg right. Just a long iron and wedge for Johnson, but inexplicably, he opted for the big stick and after a wayward drive, began his shocking tumble down the leaderboard.
Over his next five holes, Johnson shot seven over par, going bogey, bogey, bogey, double bogey, double bogey. The previous week he had come within a shot of winning The Masters.
Harbour Town Golf Links measures barely 7,000 yards but its design is brilliant. And so it was a surprise that Johnson had managed to play it so well. It requires pinpoint placement from the tee and the greens are the smallest on the PGA Tour. And yet Johnson took 78 shots in that final round.
He may be the world number one and he may have a US Open under his belt, but the big man has history when it comes to final round meltdowns, so we should not have been too shocked. It all started with the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach. It is a course over which he had performed brilliantly in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am over the years and had actually won the tournament earlier that year, so it came as no surprise when he led the US Open by three shots going into the final round. But then it all began to unravel. In spectacular fashion. He ran up a triple bogey at the second, followed it with a double bogey at the third and then disappeared without trace as Graeme McDowell went on to win. Johnson finished with an 82. Ouch!
And then there was The Open Championship at Royal St George’s in 2011, which was won by Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke. But what is largely forgotten is that Johnson was breathing down Clarke’s neck until they came to the par-five 14th hole and the American tried to go for the green in two, hit his two iron out of bounds, ran up a seven and lost by two.
But perhaps his worst collapse in a final round came during the 2017 WGC HSBC Champions. Justin Rose went into the round trailing Johnson by by eight shots and entertaining no hopes of victory. A quiet start, which saw him play his first nine holes in level par, meant the Englishman was still six strokes behind the American teeing off the tenth.
But a truly magnificent performance on the closing nine holes of the championship from Rose, which included five birdies, meant he signed for a final round 67 to get to 14 under par. It should still have been nowhere near good enough. But Johnson’s game fell apart. He finished with a 77 and ended the week in a three-way tie for second place.
Nonetheless, Johnson has won 20 events on the PGA Tour, including six World Championships, so the accusation of fallibility is not entirely found, but those occasional fragilities more likely point to the difficulty of winning tournaments at the highest level.
And just for the record, C T Pan, who won the RBC Heritage is most definitely NOT a bomber.
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