Golf World NotebookMarch 7, 2017

Has DJ separated himself, what's next for Rory, and the tour's scheduling hurdle

Hector Vivas/STR

MEXICO CITY -- Are we now entering the Dustin Johnson era?

To think as much would take away from the accomplishments of Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day. You can include Justin Thomas in that group, with three wins this season and nearly a fourth on Sunday, Hideki Matsuyama, with three wins and two runner-ups since October, and Rickie Fowler, who over the past two years has a handful of worldwide wins that includes a Players Championship.

Johnson, however, is playing the best golf of his career, and in some ways doing so somewhat quietly. The old cliché about letting his clubs do the talking certainly applies to the soft-spoken native South Carolinian.

In Johnson’s last 17 starts, dating back to last year’s breakthrough victory at the U.S. Open at Oakmont, the 32-year-old has won five times, including twice in his last two starts. He also has four other top-five finishes in that span.

Since the beginning of 2016, DJ has finished in the top 10 in 20 out of 29 tournaments worldwide.

RELATED: DJ wins WGC-Mexico Championship, validating rise to No. 1

Is there any wonder he’s No. 1 in the world and by a wide 2.36-point margin? The only way he can be caught before the Masters is if either Day or McIlroy win both the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the WGC-Dell Match Play.

“You look at the leader board, there’s a few names you don’t want to see,” Johnson said following his victory at the WGC-Mexico Championship when asked if he has ever felt he’s had a target on his back. “Mine would be one of them.”

And the fact that he missed 16 putts inside 10 feet last week in Mexico and still won is just further proof.

I don’t know that you can call it an era, but a decade from now the run Johnson is on might be looked at as the beginning of something special.

RORY'S RETURN REVISITED

Making his first start in seven weeks after suffering a stress fracture in his ribs earlier this year, Rory McIlroy’s expectations were tempered going into the WGC-Mexico Championship.

Then the tournament got under way.

After the 27-year-old four-time major champion opened with a three-under 68, despite dealing with the effects of food poisoning from the night before, he followed with a sizzling 65 to take a two-stroke lead into the weekend.

The expectations changed for McIlroy, but he soon fizzled, closing with rounds of 70-71, killing any chances of victory in the final round with a pair of bogeys in his first seven holes.

“It’s not very good,” McIlroy said matter-of-factly of his play on Sunday after beginning the day just two off the lead. “I needed to get off to a fast start, and I didn't. That was really it. … The course got a little trickier over the weekend. Maybe I just didn’t quite adjust to that.”

RELATED: McIlroy thinks Tiger could play at the Masters after recent lunch with him

The tie for seventh frustrated the Northern Irishman, particularly after the way he played the first two days.

“These two rounds were the sort of rounds I would have expected the first two days, not the last two,” he said. “I was hoping to sort of improve as the week went on.”

The good news for McIlroy? He’s back playing again, and the amount of rust given the layoff wasn’t what he expected. And with the Masters still a month away, he still has plenty of time to sharpen his game for the one major he has yet to win.

FIESTA TIME IN MEXICO

Ahead of the WGC-Mexico Championship, Billy Horschel said publicly that he wouldn’t have played in the event even if he had qualified because of security concerns. A few other players shared similar sentiments more quietly.

All of it was unfounded, though.

From the vibrant and glitzy Polanco neighborhood of the city where everyone associated with the tournament stayed, to the well-oiled logistics the PGA Tour arranged, to the enthusiastic crowds, the event couldn’t have come off better.

As for what the tournament will do for golf in Mexico? That answer is a little more complicated.

RELATED: The upside of bringing a WGC event to Mexico that nobody's talking about

There’s essentially little-to-no public golf in Mexico, no professional tour based there, and awareness of the game isn’t great. And while the tournament saw good crowds, attending proved expensive at $175 a ticket (though kids did get in for free).

Still, the positives seem to outweigh the negatives.

“This puts Mexico on another level,” said Lorena Ochoa, who stopped by the tournament on Sunday, and in May will host an LPGA event in Mexico City. “We are going in the right direction.

“Anytime you have the best players in the world in your sport you should be proud of that and take advantage of that. Little boys and girls need to come and see and know they don’t need to be afraid of dreaming. Hopefully next year we’ll learn from this experience and learn what a big opportunity this is.”

NOT-SO-RANDOM THOUGHTS

When the WGC-Mexico Championship moved south of the border, it was a seven-year deal to compete in Mexico, with the first two years of the event being played at Chapultepec Golf Club. Beyond that, the venue was still to be determined. Talking to a few folks associated with the tournament, however, you get the feeling it could stay at the course beyond 2018. Player feedback, with the exception of the greens, which can be fixed, was also positive. …

The downside to being in Mexico at this point of the schedule? Breaking up the Florida Swing, with the PGA Tour going from Los Angeles to Palm Beach to Mexico then back to Florida (for this week’s Valspar Championship near Tampa). The more logical alternative would be to see the Mexico stop move to the back end of the West Coast Swing, then the tour head to Florida, an idea that feels like it picked up some momentum in the last week. …

Did anyone really expect Phil Mickelson to wear anything other than a leather jacket during his interview on Feherty Live? Lefty might not have won since 2013 but his storytelling game is still as sharp as ever.

WHO I LIKE THIS WEEK

Hector Vivas/STR

Justin Thomas had a mini-meltdown Sunday in Mexico, but as bad as he sometimes swung it he still had a chance for his fourth victory this season. Now he heads to the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook, a ball-striker’s paradise that should suit Thomas perfectly. He has also played well there in the past, finishing T-10 and T-18 the last two years after first competing on the course during his AJGA days. Don’t expect the at-times poor play, or disappointment, to carry over to this week.


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