Dustin Johnson created a lot of drama for himself when he let the HSBC Champions in China slip past him the last weekend in October.
Holding a six-shot advantage going into the final round of the World Golf Championship event, Johnson blew the biggest 54-hole lead since Sergio Garcia did the same at Quail Hollow a dozen-odd years ago.
Johnson was reminded of that collapse after Saturday’s third round at the Sentry Tournament of Champions but shrugged it off like a bad case of fleas. Ahead by two to begin his closing 18, Johnson pulled away from the rest of this talented field en route to an eight-shot victory over runner-up Jon Rahm (69), missing David Duval’s record margin of victory here by one set in 1999.
It is the second time in eight appearances that Johnson has captured this winners-only tournament. He fired a final-round 65 — the only golfer to shoot all four rounds in the 60s — to finish at 24-under 268. The 33-year-old beat the young Spaniard completing his first four-day tour of the Plantation Course on a windy and rainy Sunday afternoon.
Johnson made it look like a stroll through Central Park with four birdies on the front nine and an eagle and three birdies on the back to ensure he will return for a ninth time if the golf gods of Maui are willing. His only blemish was a bogey at the par-3 11th, his second straight day to card a four on that tricky hole at the top of the course.
Johnson came back to drive the 433-yard 12th, missing an ace at the par 4 by 6 inches. He tapped it in for eagle. It was the second time he eagled the hole, holing it out from 72 yards on Saturday to go 4 under at the 12th for the weekend. The only time a PGA Tour player aced a par 4 was Andrew Magee in 2001 at Phoenix.
“If I drove it well I was going to play good, I did that,” said Johnson, who pocketed $1.26 million with the win to fall just short of $50 million in career earnings. “And even making the turn, I think I made the turn at 20. I had a pretty good cushion there, but still, I just told myself I wanted to get it to 25. So I didn’t want to let up on the back nine, especially after what had happened in Shanghai.
“Yeah, I didn’t want that to happen again. Today was a great day. I really felt like I drove it well. I did a lot of things very well, but the driver won it for me. I put the new M4 driver in last week and I drove it fantastic this week.”
Unlike Justin Rose, who came from eight shots off the pace to beat Johnson 10 Sundays ago, no one mounted a charge as Johnson made the turn for home holding a six-shot lead over Rahm and playing partner Brian Harman, who finished alone in third at 15 under with a final-round 72.
Another shot back in a three-way tie for fourth were last year’s runner-up Hideki Matsuyama (66), Pat Perez (69) and Rickie Fowler (70). This deep field of 34 golfers included the top five in the world and seven of the top 10. Johnson showed why he is the No. 1 player with massive drives — he drove the green at Nos. 12 and 14 — and a deft touch with the putter. When he is at his best there is no one better.
“I think I go back again to the WGC in Shanghai,” Johnson said. “I had a six-shot lead and that was a really difficult day and I just didn’t really putt well, didn’t really do anything — didn’t do anything terrible, I just didn’t do anything very good and I ended up losing. So for me to come out this week, and I’ve got a two-shot lead going into Sunday, instead of just barely winning. I won by eight.”
Rahm tried to make a game of it but was just no match for Johnson, who said when he is playing his best, no one can beat him. Rahm began his round with a bogey at No. 1 but birdied Nos. 2, 5 and 6 to make the turn in second. He held that spot throughout the back nine as Harman struggled to find his game. After opening with three rounds in the 60s, the Georgia Bulldog — one of four in the field this weekend — was unable to match that mark. Harman had a birdie putt at the last to draw even with Rahm but came up short on the 15-footer.
Defending champion Justin Thomas finally found his game with a closing 66. He had three rounds in the 70s over the first 54 holes before winding up in a tie for 22nd. The defending Sony Open in Hawaii champion will have Jim “Bones” Mackay on his bag this week. He is Phil Mickelson’s former longtime caddie.
“I was rusty for sure,” Thomas said. “But I played better today and that’s something I can build on next week.”