Johnson and the circuitous route to stardom
(Getty Images photo)
By John Strege
KAPALUA, Hawaii -- Dustin Johnson seems to prefer circuitous routes, but the destination is unchanged and he is closing on it. The last remaining obstacle? Himself.
He circumvented it in the final round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions on Tuesday and emerged (escaped?) with a four-stroke victory that was, by his own description, "nowhere near ho-hum."
He once led by five, then led by one, the result of his proclivity for not fully assessing the situation and avoiding unnavigable precincts. One of them on Tuesday was a group of shrubs and trees left of the 13th fairway on the Plantation Course.
Then talent took over and he won for the seventh time. He also extended his streak of years with at least one victory to six, second only to Phil Mickelson's nine. More impressively, perhaps, is that he became the first player since Tiger Woods to win six straight years upon leaving college.
The destination can be found among those credentials. It's called superstardom.
Golf is too fickle to reliably prognosticate, but Johnson's chest is not missing any tools and he's only 28.
"He's got that athletic build, that athletic body," Steve Stricker said. "He's got a tremendous amount of flexibility. He gets the club in positions that people can't get it into, and he can use that height to his advantage, the big arc to get that powerful hit on the ball.
"He's just going to get better. That's going to be the fun part, watching what he's going to do from here on out, because he looks unflappable out there."
The 13th and 14th holes on Tuesday were a microcosm of Johnson's game. At 13 and holding a three-stroke lead, the situation called for a 3-iron from the tee and 8-iron from the fairway. Instead he took driver and hit wayward.
The search party included Stricker. "We found a shoe, some sunglasses, about five or six other balls," Stricker said. "There might have been a guy living up in in the tree. I don't know."
A double-bogey there threatened his hold in the lead, yet he opted for driver on the next tee, too, "piped it," Stricker said, then pitched in for eagle.
"Dude, what are you doing?" Stricker asked him as they walked down the 15th fairway. "Why don't you take iron out, make me have to make birdies instead of you hitting in the trees and opening it up for me?"
"Yeah, I know," Johnson replied.
He knows, but can't seem to help himself. "I don't know what was going through my head," he said.
The fearlessness or recklessness -- take your pick -- in concert with his athleticism and skill is what makes him so entertaining. "You never know what he's going to do," Stricker said.
But it also is the obstacle standing between him and a sustained run in the World Ranking top 10. He has ranked as high as fourth, in 2011, but was 23rd entering the Hyundai.
"I still don't think I've lived up to my potential," he said. "Obviously, this week I did, but I still made some mistakes. Limiting those will help, just making some better decisions. If I keep playing golf like I'm playing right now, then obviously there is no limit."