When DJ plays like this, 'What can you do?'

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 12, 2016, 12:08 am

CARMEL, Ind. – Forget the NFL. Sunday at the BMW Championship, Dustin Johnson was creating his own matchup problems for the opposition. 

Because when he’s driving it this absurdly long and straight, and when he’s putting this confidently, it doesn’t always seem like a fair fight for the rest of the field.

There were the 30-yard gaps between his and Paul Casey’s drives. 

There was the resiliency with five front-nine birdies after two early bogeys. 

And there was the cold-blooded eagle on the 15th hole, after Casey, for a few precious moments at least, trimmed the deficit to a single shot. 

“I ran into a buzzsaw today,” Casey said with a shrug.

No player on the PGA Tour – not Jason, not Rory, not Jordan – makes extraordinary golf look as simple as Johnson. Sauntering around Crooked Stick, he led the field in driving distance and ball-striking, and ranked second in putting.

At 23-under 265, Johnson won by three over Casey and likely locked up PGA Tour Player of the Year honors in the process.

“It’s still a fair fight,” Spieth said, “but it means you have to have your A-plus game, and that doesn’t come around that often.”

After his third victory and eighth top-10 in his past 10 starts, Johnson still sits more than two world-ranking points behind Day. But he has never been closer to world No. 1. 

It’s the first time in Johnson’s career that he has won three times in a season, the realization of the awesome potential that he has flashed ever since he broke on Tour in 2008. He has won at least one event in nine consecutive seasons, the longest active streak on Tour, but before this year it always seemed as though he’d yet to maximize his incredible talent. His unmatched skill set also worked against him, because shouldn’t a player who can drive the ball that long, and that straight, and possess such obvious gifts win multiple times a year and capture majors in bunches?

Probably so, but Spieth said one of the biggest differences this year is Johnson’s consistency off the tee, that he lacks the foul balls each round that could result in a double bogey. Instead, Johnson smashes a 330-yard power cut that keeps him in play – and ahead of his playing competitors. Even his mis-hits off the heel, Spieth said, “find the right side of the fairway and are just as long as if I bomb out.”

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One of the other knocks on Johnson’s game over the years was that he didn’t take full advantage of those mammoth drives. He gives himself more wedge opportunities per round than, say, Spieth, but he didn’t capitalize on all of those chances. That has changed this year, after he purchased a Trackman to help dial in his distance with his wedges. Four years ago, Johnson ranked 166th on Tour in proximity to the hole from 50-125 yards (20 feet, 5 inches). Entering this week, he was fifth (15 feet, 11 inches). The Tour leader in driving distance (313.9 yards per pop), he’s also tops in proximity to the hole and third in putting average. 

Little wonder his scoring average is a Tour-best 69.17.

What’s scary is that Johnson says there’s still “a lot of room for improvement.” His mid-iron play, normally his bread and butter, “wasn’t very good” at the BMW. And he still torched the place.

“What can you do?” Casey said. 

On Sunday, Johnson gave only brief glimmers of hope to Casey, his lone challenger on this day. 

Johnson had a shaky track record with a 54-hole lead (he was 2 of 6), and he opened with a pair of bogeys in his first three holes to drop into a share of the lead.

After the third round, Casey marveled at how Johnson seemed to lead the Tour in strokes gained-attitude – that he doesn’t get flustered by either a string of poor shots or surges in adrenaline. Sure enough, Johnson shook off those early bogeys with a 21-foot birdie on 4 and then a 6-footer on 5. Just like that, he was three clear again. 

“It was just brilliant,” Casey said. “There’s not that many guys out here who have that ability to deal with good and bad. Brilliant.”

Asked later whether he agreed with Casey, that he had the ideal temperament for golf, Johnson stared blankly at the questioner. 

“Sure …?” he said. 

Johnson’s victory lap was interrupted on the par-5 15th when Casey rolled in a 25-footer for eagle to pull within a shot. Then Johnson stepped up and, using a putter he’d put in the bag just four days earlier, calmly rolled in the 18-footer to match. So overcome with emotion, he barely pumped his fist. 

“Afterward,” Johnson said, “I was like, man, I could have gave a good fist pump there. That would have been pretty nice.” 

Indeed, the beauty of Johnson is his simplicity. He has little use for any of the attention-grabbing theatrics of his superstar peers. Rather than mark his 6-inch putt on 18 so that he could receive the loudest ovation, he instead tapped in first, politely doffed his cap and raised his right hand to the crowd. He hugged his brother/caddie Austin, but that was the extent of the on-course celebration. It was perfectly DJ.

Left to make sense of the past few days was Casey, whose 20-under total would have won or forced a playoff in all but five events this season. It was his second consecutive runner-up, but his narrow losses have come to two of the game’s powerhouses, McIlroy and now Johnson. 

What will it take to get over the hump? Casey smiled, then nodded at Johnson, who was heading across the walkway, toward the trophy presentation. 

“Having him not in the field?”

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.