PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Everywhere he looked, Dustin Johnson couldn’t beat the scenery at Pebble Beach.
Most of that was on the golf course. Some of it was in the record book.
In a three-way tie for the lead and facing his most important shot of the final round, Johnson belted a tee shot down the famous par-5 18th fairway that set up a simple birdie from the bunker Sunday and gave him a one-shot victory over David Duval and J.B. Holmes.
Only later did he realize the elite company he joined.
Johnson became only the sixth player (with an asterisk) to win back-to-back in the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, most of whom are in the Hall of Fame – Sam Snead, Cary Middlecoff, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Mark O’Meara were the others. The asterisk is attached to Snead, who won tournaments shortened to 18 holes and 36 holes, neither considered official these days.
“That’s not a bad list,” Johnson said. “Anytime you’re on a list with those guys, you’re doing all right.”
He closed with a 2-over 74, the highest final round by a Pebble champion since Johnny Miller shot 74 in 1994. That’s nothing to brag about, although it was a tough day with splotches of mud on the ball and tough pins. Only seven players broke 70.
The last player to win Pebble Beach with a birdie on the 72nd hole from the final group? That would be Davis Love III in 2003.
Perhaps the most impressive of all?
Johnson became the first player since Tiger Woods to go straight from college and win in each of his first three years on the PGA Tour.
The question is how much better he can get.
“As long as I keep playing the way I’m playing, I don’t think there’s anything that I can’t do,” Johnson said. “It’s all up to me. I’ve got to keep working hard and keep practicing hard, and good things will come.”
His victory included $1,116,000, the largest check of his career. He moved up to No. 2 in the Ryder Cup standings, and would seem to be an important cog on the U.S. team with his extraordinary length.
Ultimately, it was that length that carried him to victory on a day that had more twists and turns that most people could have imagined.
Johnson started the final round tied for the lead with Paul Goydos and lost it three times – on a bogey on the opening hole, a double bogey on the ninth hole when he three-putted from 15 feet, and when Goydos made a birdie on the 13th hole.
He regained control when Goydos took three chips and three putts on and around the 14th green for a quadruple-bogey nine. He won the tournament with a birdie on the last hole, starting with his tee shot.
“All world,” Goydos said of the drive.
Johnson is one of the few players who could get home in two on the 525-yard closing hole, which played into an ocean breeze with fairways that are soft and damp this time of the year.
That’s assuming he hits it in the fairway, which Holmes failed to do ahead of him.
“It’s one of the toughest tee balls on the whole course,” Johnson said. “I had a good wind today, in and off the right, so it’s a wind that I like and I’m comfortable with. So it was just hit a draw off the trees, because I knew if I just got it in the fairway, then I would have a good chance to get it on the green.”
He hit 3-iron into the right bunker, a good place to miss. With the ball on the upslope, he popped it out to 3 feet and made the putt.
Johnson finished at 16-under 270.
Duval promised “big things” were coming after he opened with a 67 at Spyglass Hill, and he wasn’t kidding. He closed with a 69, the first time since the Buick Challenge in 2001 that he shot every round in the 60s at a PGA Tour event.
He failed to make birdie on the 18th when his wedge landed short enough below the pin to catch a slope and roll 30 feet away.
“I feel like I did most of the things I wanted to do today,” Duval said.
It was a promising week, more than the U.S. Open last week when he tied for second. Duval stayed in the game with big putts at Bethpage Black; this was more about controlling the ball, which he found more impressive.
Holmes also failed to birdie the 18th, missing a 12-foot birdie putt, just as he missed from about the same distance on the 17th.
“Would have liked it to end a little better for me, but I had a good week,” Holmes said after a 71. “Had my chances.”
And then there was Goydos, who suffered the biggest heartbreak. Mud on his ball after the tee shot on the 14th ultimately left him more club than he wanted into the green (7-iron). Trying to chip over a huge hump toward the flag, it went off the green. The next chip came back toward his feet. The next one barely stayed on the green well past the pin. Then came three putts.
“It wasn’t like I didn’t try on all nine shots,” he said.
Johnson’s victory last year was nothing like this. Johnson effectively won the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on a Saturday at Spyglass Hill, with hardly any spectators around. He was declared the winner two days later, while eating breakfast on a Monday morning, when rain cut short the tournament to 54 holes.
“Walking down that 18th hole with all the fans out there was just unbelievable, especially with the clear day,” Johnson said. “It’s one of the most beautiful holes in golf.”