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Dustin-g Them Off

Although this is still 2013, this was the fourth PGA Tour event of the 2014 season (yes, we are still trying to get used to that), and it was in China. Golf has indeed become a global game.  

When the World Golf Championships were created, it was to bring together all the best players in the world for 4 events each year. The series of showcase tournaments would act as a second tier of Major Championships. The notion was that the cream would rise to the top, and create an arena in which all the best players in the world battle it out on Sunday afternoons. Kind of like a collection of All-Star games. That has rarely happened.

The HSBC Championship in Shanghai that finished in the wee hours of our morning stateside was exactly what the doctor ordered. Contending players over the weekend were a veritable who’s who of golf and included  Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell, (who both had had a hand on the lead in the final round) followed by Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy (yes, that Rory……is showing some much better form of late) and Martin Kaymer.

With the best players (Tiger woods was not in the field) playing on a forgiving golf course in wet conditions, it became target practice as one shot after the other covered the flagsticks.

McDowell would shoot a pair of 8-under par 64’s over the weekend and lose by four.

But no one knocked down more flagsticks than US star, Dustin Johnson. Johnson plays the game with an absolute abandon and a complete absence of fear. Calling Johnson a long hitter is like saying that the Beatles were a good band. He doesn’t hit a golf ball, he sends it into orbit and routinely hits drives over 350 yards.

As an admiring McDowell would say: “He trenches one 350 down the middle and has the hands to that 70-yard shot to the front pin and make the putt. 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 had actually built a 6 shot lead with one hole to play in Saturday’s third round. A double bogey (and this is the kind of volatility that makes watching him so compelling) on the 18th hole coupled with a birdie from Poulter reduced his overnight lead to 3.

Poulter started Sunday’s round with back to back birdies which combined with a Johnson bogey left them tied. Along with McDowell, they see-sawed back and forth with the lead until a virtuoso stretch of holes from Johnson. Beginning on the 13th hole, Johnson played the next 5 holes in 5-under par to put the event away.

It was the biggest win of his seven year career on Tour and means that he has now won an event in each of those 7 years, which is the longest streak like that for any player on the Tour today.

For the week, Johnson would record an amazing 24-under par score which left him three clear of Poulter. He is proving himself to be one of those special players that when he gets hot, he becomes volcanic. And he is always exciting to watch which is exactly what the game needs.  The next step for the 29 year old South Carolinian is to win a Major Championship which seems like a natural progression for one of the game’s biggest stars.