D. Johnson starts season with win ... again

By Jason SobelNovember 3, 2013, 6:31 pm

When you're a professional golfer, life gets a lot easier when you win your first tournament of the year. Even those who were never in danger of losing status or slipping in the world ranking can take a certain liberating pleasure in knowing that whatever else happens for the rest of the year, you've got a notch in the all-important win column to your credit.

Just ask Tiger Woods, who seven times has started his campaign with a victory. Or Stuart Appleby, who used to make a habit of winning the season-opener at Kapalua.

Or now Dustin Johnson, who has won his first start of the year in back-to-back years – well, seasons. The new wraparound schedule actually means he's won his first start of the year twice in the same year, a record that will thankfully never be broken.

For Johnson, though, his triumph at the HSBC Champions event means more than just being able to take it easy for the remainder of the 2013-14 season.

It means a return to glory on the heels of a disappointing campaign.

Following his win at the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Johnson failed to find the winner’s circle again. It’s not that he didn’t play well – he was runner-up at the RBC Canadian Open and had four other top-10 finishes – it’s just that he suffered from another innate problem of winning in his first start.

There’s nowhere to go but down.


Highlights: Johnson wins first start of season in China

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Perhaps that’s why, after his first start of the new season, just 10 months after his first start of the last season, Johnson was quick with the superlatives to rank his eighth career victory.

'It's the biggest win I've had in my career so far,' he said. 'Those guys put a lot of pressure on me. I'm really proud of the way I handled myself.'

All of which leads to more takeaways from the tournament.

It means he’s overcome a stigma of “soft” victories.

Anyone wishing to denounce Johnson’s accomplishments in recent years has quickly pointed to the fact that three have come at events shortened to 54 holes. Through that checkpoint in Sheshan, he held a three-stroke advantage, only to watch it vanish in the first six holes.

If a player who wins every year still needed to prove himself as a closer, that’s exactly what he did. Johnson played his final six holes in 5 under, prevailing over Ian Poulter by that same three-shot differential with which he started the day.

“I knew I just needed to keep playing my game,' he later said.

In case there was any doubt, his game includes the odd mistake here and there mixed with a dazzling array of red numbers. For the week, Johnson posted a pair of eagles and 28 birdies, numbers which easily offset two bogeys and a wince-inducing three doubles.

It means he remains with Phil Mickelson as the game’s models of consistency.

Mickelson? Johnson? Consistent? That may sound like the furthest characteristic of either’s game, but no players have won at least once every season for as long as these two.

Johnson, in particular, has shown a winning consistency since joining the PGA Tour, claiming a title in each of his first seven seasons. There are very few golfers on the planet whose best golf is better than that of their competitors. He is one of these few.

What we’ve learned about Johnson is that when he’s off his game, the results look rather ordinary. But when he’s got his best stuff, he’s awfully tough to beat.

It means he’s still the winningest 20-something in the game.

We can debate whether Rory McIlroy or Jordan Spieth are better players or will have more celebrated careers. But we can’t argue the stats, which show that Johnson has won more than anyone else before the age of 30.

That will change just after next year’s U.S. Open, when he’ll hit the Big Three-Oh. That should only bring greater anticipation, though, as history shows that players don’t reach their primes until this point – especially at the majors.

All of which leads to the last thing we learned from Johnson’s win this week.

It means that the next step in his progression is a major victory.

Johnson’s resume now includes regular season wins, a FedEx Cup playoff win and, thanks to Sunday’s charge during the final stretch, a WGC win. He infamously finished T-5 at the 2010 PGA Championship after grounding his club in a bunker on the final hole, but it hasn’t all been bad news at the majors.

He owns a half-dozen top-10 results, including at least one in each of the last five years. And he understands that his best golf can finally bring that elusive win.

'You know what?' he said after the HSBC. 'If I play like I did this week, I'm going to win one, for sure.'

Yes, winning in your first start of the season can be liberating, allowing a player to feel like he’s playing with house money for the remainder of the year. Or it can lead to bigger and better things later on.

Last season, Johnson failed to add to his season-opening win. He’s hoping this one creates a much different aftershock.

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.