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DJ motivated to keep No. 1 ranking

By Rex HoggardFebruary 14, 2018, 10:03 pm

LOS ANGELES – On Tuesday, Dustin Johnson joined an exclusive club.

He didn’t add to his growing trophy collection. In fact, he actually dropped a surprising decision at Pebble Beach on Sunday after taking a share of the lead into the final round, but we’ll circle back around to that.

On Tuesday, DJ became just the fifth player to hold the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking for a full calendar year, joining the likes of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Greg Norman and Nick Faldo.

To keep things in context, the ranking has been around only since 1986, but it’s an impressive accomplishment nonetheless considering the parity in golf at the moment. Not that Johnson sounded as if he was spending much time relishing his tenure at the top.

“On Mondays usually," he said when asked how often he checked the ranking. "That's about it, though. Just to see what's going on. I still don't really understand them, but I could read ‘[No.] 1.’”

Like most things with DJ, compartmentalization is often confused for indifference.

Johnson pays more attention to the mathematical formula than he lets on, even if, like most of us, he doesn’t perfectly understand the countless computations.

“He likes it, being world No. 1, and he’s adamant about keeping it,” said Johnson’s swing coach, Butch Harmon.

In recent weeks Johnson’s status atop the world heap has been challenged by Jon Rahm, who could have ascended to the top spot at either the Farmers Insurance Open or last week at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am depending on DJ’s finish despite the Spaniard not playing last week.


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Although he often comes across as aloof when he talks publicly about the ranking, there was an edge to Johnson's voice Wednesday as he prepared for this week’s Genesis Open.

It was Johnson’s five-stroke victory last year at Riviera Country Club that elevated him to the top of the mountain and started a torrid run that only an untimely spill on the eve of the Masters ended.

“It's nice. It's been a tough year,” Johnson said. “Obviously starting here I was playing really, really well, and then the injury at Augusta kind of derailed me a little bit.”

Johnson won his next two starts, both World Golf Championship events, after the Genesis Open, and arrived at the year’s first major the consensus favorite before falling in his rental house and injuring his back.

It took about a year for Johnson to feel fully healthy again and he opened this year with another commanding performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight strokes.

Although last week’s runner-up showing at Pebble Beach, where he closed with an even-par 72 to tie for second place, was surprising considering his status as a front-runner, it was also an interesting indication of the state of his game.

“Last week I didn't feel like I had my best stuff, but I still was there in contention with a chance to win on Sunday, which shows me that my game is definitely getting back to where it was,” Johnson said. “It feels better today than it did last week, so that's really good.”

Actually, Harmon said Johnson’s game was closer to 70 percent last week, particularly his driving which is always a gauge of how he’s playing.

But he’s close. Close to being back at his best and to the level where he was when he scorched the PGA Tour last spring.

“It’s pretty close, .5,” he said to compare where his game is now to 12 months ago. “I feel just as good as I did last year.”

Harmon took a slightly more detailed approach.

“It was a little better at this point last year. He’s been skiing and last week he was a little off and just needs to fine tune some things,” Harmon said. “But I can see him having the same momentum [as he did last year].”

And that might be the biggest difference between DJ 2017 and the current model. While all of the tumblers were falling perfectly into place at this point last year, this time around seems a little more calculated.

Even last week when he lost to Ted Potter Jr., who was plying his trade on the Web.com Tour 12 months ago, was an encouraging sign.

But most of all he’s motivated. He’s motivated to ride another wave of momentum down Magnolia Lane, motivated to stay healthy and, yes, absolutely motivated to maintain the top spot in the world ranking.

“It's definitely difficult to stay No. 1,” Johnson said. “The guys out here are very, very good and there's a lot of very talented players. But for me, I use it as motivation to keep working harder and to keep doing the things that I'm doing.”

Luke List, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood and Tiger Woods at the 2018 Honda Classic Getty Images

Honda leaders face daunting final day

By Randall MellFebruary 25, 2018, 12:46 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The winner may need a cut man in his corner more than he needs a caddie on his bag in Sunday’s finish to the Honda Classic.

Smelling salts might come in handy, too.

“It just feels like you are getting punched in the face every single hole here,” Daniel Berger said of the test PGA National’s Champion Course offers. “Every single shot is so hard.”

Final rounds have been especially rough and tumble since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007.

That usually makes Sundays here as much about who can figuratively take a punch as who can throw one.

Luke List will have his jaw tested after taking sole possession of the lead Saturday with a second consecutive round of 4-under-par 66, but he can take comfort in the fact that punishment is doled plentifully around here.

“Just realizing that everyone is facing the same obstacles out there is huge,” List said. “You're not alone out there, if you make a bogey or a bad swing here or there.”

At 7-under 203, List is one shot ahead of a pair of major championship winners, Justin Thomas (65) and Webb Simpson (66). He is two ahead of Tommy Fleetwood (67), the reigning European Tour Player of the Year, and Jamie Lovemark (68).

List, 33, is seeking his first PGA Tour title in his 104th start. He will have to hold off some heavyweights, including Tiger Woods (69), who is seven shots back but feeling like he has a chance again. Woods closed with a 62 here six years ago when he finished second to Rory McIlroy.

“You never know what can happen the last few holes here,” Woods said. “A lot of things can happen and have happened in the past.”

Amen.


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Crazy things have happened here.

Three years ago, Padraig Harrington was five shots down with eight holes to play and won. He made two double bogeys in the final round but ended up beating Berger in a playoff.

Berger, by the way, was nine shots back entering the final round.

That was the year Ian Poulter took a share of lead into Sunday, hit five balls in the water and still finished just a shot out of the playoff.

Last year, Rickie Fowler made four bogeys and a double bogey in the final round and still won by four shots.

List will have a heavyweight playing alongside him in the final pairing, with 24-year-old Justin Thomas looking to claim his eighth PGA Tour title. Thomas was last season’s PGA Tour Player of the Year.

List has never held a 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour event.

“You guys build up certain players,” List said. “I know I'll be an underdog going against Justin Thomas and guys like that, which is fine.”

There is some inspiration for List in what Ted Potter Jr. did two weeks at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Potter, largely unknown even though he already had a PGA Tour title to his credit, held off stars Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day in the final round to win. 

Thomas earned the right to play alongside List in the final pairing Sunday with his 65, which equaled the low round of the tournament.

Thomas makes his home in nearby Jupiter and knows the punishment the Champion Course can dish out.

“It's a difficult course,” Thomas said. “If you let it get to you, it can be frustrating, but if you go into it understanding and realizing it's difficult, you just kind of embrace it and deal with it.”

Thomas played the Bear Trap’s trio of daunting holes (Nos. 15-17) in 2 under on Saturday. He birdied the 15th and 17th holes.

Fleetwood got in contention Saturday with a pair of eagles. He’s a four-time European Tour winner.

“I would love to get my first win on the PGA Tour this week,” he said. “It’s just great to be out here. It's great to be playing on courses like this that are such a test of every part of your game.”

Alex Noren, a nine-time European Tour winner, is also seeking his first PGA Tour title. He is three shots back. He lost in a playoff to Day at the Farmers Insurance Open last month.

Though this is just Noren’s second start at the Honda Classic, he knows how wildly momentum can swing on the Champion Course. He shot 65 Saturday after shooting 75 on Friday.

“I’m a few back, but anything can happen,” Noren said.

That’s the theme around here.

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Thomas: Winning hometown Honda would 'mean a lot'

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:53 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas is trying to join Rickie Fowler as a winner of his hometown event.

Thomas will play in the final group alongside Luke List on Sunday at the Honda Classic after matching the low round of the week with a 5-under 65. He is at 6-under 204, one shot back of List.

The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year is one of several residents of nearby Jupiter. After Fowler won last year, Thomas (who missed the cut) returned to the course to congratulate his neighbor on his fourth Tour title.

“I hope I give him the opportunity or the choice to come back,” Thomas said. “But I’ve got a lot of golf in front of me before I worry about him coming here.”


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

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More important to Thomas, however, is winning this event, which is played at PGA National, one of the most difficult non-major courses on Tour.

“It would mean a lot,” he said. “It means a lot to win any golf tournament, but it would mean more because of how prestigious this golf tournament is and the list of winners that have won this event, how strong of a field it is, how difficult of a golf course.

“A decent number of my wins have been on easier golf courses, so it would be cool to get it done at a place like this.”

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Woods paired with hotshot rookie Burns at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:38 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rookie Sam Burns will be in the biggest spot of his career Sunday – playing alongside Tiger Woods.

Burns, the reigning Nicklaus Award winner who turned pro after two standout years at LSU, will go off with Woods at 12:45 p.m. at the Honda Classic.

Burns, 20, who earned his Web.com Tour card via Q-School, is playing this week on a sponsor exemption, his fourth of the season. He is 13th on the Web.com money list this year, after a tie for second two weeks ago in Colombia.


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Burns and Woods are tied for 11th, at even-par 210.

Sunday is an important round for Burns, who can earn a spot into the Valspar Championship with a top-10 finish here.

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List leads Honda; Thomas one back

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 24, 2018, 11:25 pm

Luke List, one of a legion of PGA Tour players who live in Jupiter, just two exits up I-95 from PGA National, shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to take a one-shot lead after three rounds of the Honda Classic. Here's how things stand going into the final round at PGA National:

Leaderboard: Luke List (-7), Justin Thomas (-6), Webb Simpson (-6), Tommy Fleetwood (-5), Jamie Lovemark (-5), Alex Noren (-4) 

What it means: Leader List has played well this season, with no finish lower than T-26 in six starts. Thomas, of course, is the reigning Player of the Year. The next best pedigree among the leaders belongs to Simpson, winner of the 2012 U.S. Open and three other PGA Tour titles.

Round of the day: Thomas and Noren both shot 5-under 65s. Thomas made two of his six birdies in the Bear Trap (at the par 3s, Nos. holes 15 and17), while Noren played that stretch (15-17) in 1 over. Noren made his hay elsewhere, including an eagle at the last that canceled out his two bogeys.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

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Best of the rest: List, Simpson and Kelly Kraft all shot 66.

Biggest disappointment: After an opening 76, Jimmy Walker probably thought he was back on track with a 68 that allowed him to make the cut. Alas, the improvement was temporary, as he ballooned back to a 74 on Saturday.

Shot of the day: Tommy Fleetwood hit a fairway wood from 282 yards to within 8 feet of the cup on the 18th hole. He then made the putt for his second eagle of the day.

Quote of the day: "The course played a fair bit easier with not as much wind." - Thomas

Biggest storyline going into Sunday: List may be in the lead, but most eyes will be on Thomas, a five-time winner last year who has yet to lift a trophy in 2018. And of course, more than a few people will be keeping tabs on Tiger Woods. He'll begin the day seven shots back, trying to channel Tiger of 2012 - when he posted a 62 on Sunday at PGA National (which was good only for a runner-up finish to Rory McIlroy).