DJ holds off world-class contenders for first WGC

By Doug FergusonNovember 3, 2013, 1:46 pm

SHANGHAI – It only took four holes over two days for Dustin Johnson to lose a six-shot lead in the HSBC Champions. All that mattered was the high-powered kick down the stretch Sunday at Sheshan International that brought him the biggest win of his career.

In what felt like the end of a long year and beginning of a new season, Johnson broke loose from a three-way battle on the back nine by playing a five-hole stretch in 5-under par. He closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-shot win over Ian Poulter to capture his first World Golf Championship title.

''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.''

This one required a little bit of everything.

One shot behind with six holes to play, he smashed his drive over the corner of a dogleg on the 13th hole that left him a short wedge into 5 feet for birdie to catch Poulter. Right when it looked as though he would fall behind again, Johnson holed a 20-foot birdie putt on the next hole.

It was a pitch-in for eagle that effectively won the tournament.


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With a one-shot lead playing the par-4 16th, Johnson hit a 3-iron about 25 yards short of the green with a front pin. The pitch was perfect, rolling into the cup like it was a putt. Johnson raised his left hand and pumped his right fist. And when he waved to acknowledge the Chinese fans, they instinctively waved back, as if Johnson were the star attraction in a parade.

That he was, and there were plenty of stars.

For most of the back nine, the top seven players on the leaderboards consisted of Johnson and half of Europe's winning Ryder Cup team from Medinah.

Poulter and Graeme McDowell, who each had a share of the lead at some point, looked capable of winning until Johnson's late heroics. Right behind them were Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer, all firing away with birdies on a soft course but unable to catch up.

Poulter and McDowell each closed with a 66, the same score as Johnson.

McDowell went 64-64 on the weekend without making a bogey and still lost by four. It was the start of that amazing stretch by Johnson that he recalled most clearly.

''He trenches one 350 down the middle and has the hands to that 70-yard shot to the front pin and make the putt,'' McDowell said. ''He's just a quality, talented, very athletic, classy player. Yeah, he makes mistakes. But when you've got a game as good as him, you can get away with a few mistakes. He's just got a great wedge game to go with just an outrageously good driving game.''

Johnson set the tournament record at 24-under 264.

He was six shots clear Saturday afternoon when he hit his tee shot in the water for a double bogey on the par-5 18th hole. Poulter had made birdie on the 18th, so the lead was cut to three shots going into the final round. Poulter started birdie-birdie. McDowell did one better, opening with three straight birdies. Johnson three-putted the first hole for bogey, and then failed to make birdie on the par-5 second hole even though he had a 6-iron for his second shot.

Just like that, there was a three-way tie for the lead.

''The first five holes were not fun,'' Johnson said. ''I wasn't having too much fun at the start, especially when Graeme and Ian were birdieing every hole, it seemed like. But I knew I just needed to keep playing my game.''

Poulter, still tied for the lead, reached the green in two with a fairway metal. Johnson missed the fairway and had to lay up, while McDowell was stuck in the thick collar on the top side of a bunker, and he did well to hit a chunk-and-run onto the green about 40 feet away. Poulter lagged to tap-in range for birdie. McDowell's long birdie putt banged into the back of the cup and disappeared. Johnson calmly made his 20-foot birdie.

''That was a big putt there,'' Johnson said.

Poulter fell out of the lead with a bogey from the bunker on the 15th, and he never caught up. He at least stayed within two shots with a birdie on the 16th, but it was demoralizing to see Johnson follow his eagle with a 5-iron into 8 feet for birdie on the 17th that wrapped it up.

''A little disappointed not to put my hands back on the trophy,'' said Poulter, who won the HSBC Champions last year at Mission Hills. ''But 15 birdies and an eagle at the weekend is some pretty good golf. Dustin finished the job. It was good golf and it was good fun to play in that group.''

Garcia closed with a 63 to finish fourth, followed by Rose (68). McIlroy and Graham DeLaet each shot 69 to tie for sixth.

It was the second straight PGA Tour season that Johnson won the first tournament he played - even though it was in the same year. His last win was the Tournament of Championship at Kapalua in January. This is the first time the tour has gone to a wraparound season, which began a month ago.

Johnson now has won in each of his first seven seasons on the PGA Tour, the most by any player since Woods in his first 14 seasons through 2009. The next step is to win a major, and he already has had plenty of chances in those.

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

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.


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Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

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After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.

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Z. Johnson may have to pay for the jet home

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 1:23 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Zach Johnson will have some bragging rights when he gets back to the ultimate golf frat house on Friday after a second-round 67 moved him into the lead at The Open.

Johnson is rooming with Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Kevin Kisner, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler this week at Carnoustie. It’s a tradition that began two years ago at Royal Troon.

Kisner joked on Thursday after he took the first-round lead that the perks for the house/tournament front-runner were limited: “I probably get to eat first,” he said.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


There is, however, one running wager.

“Two years ago we, I don't know if you call it bet, but agreement that, if you win, you get the jet and you buy it, so we go home,” said Johnson, who added that because of varying travel arrangements, the wager might not be needed this year. “I didn't pay last year. Somebody else did.”

Spieth won last year’s championship at Royal Birkdale.

Despite the expense, Johnson said he didn’t know how much it costs to charter a private flight back to the United States, but it’s a good problem to have.

“I’d be happy to fork it over,” he smiled.