Superman where are you now / When everything’s gone wrong somehow
The men of steel, the men of power / Are losing control by the hour
Dustin Johnson did not have these words from Land Of Confusion by Genesis in his head during the first three rounds of the Genesis Open at Riviera, shooting 66-66-64 to set up an imperious lead, but the mundane level par final round of 71 can only be explained by a man tormented by the voice of Phil Collins in his head over every backswing and missed putt. The tournament record of -20 was under threat when Johnson reached that score after six holes of the final round, but 1980’s pop music took over and eventually dragged Dustin back to -17, still five shots ahead of Thomas Pieters and Scott Brown. Or, the more likely explanation for the +3 return for the closing ten holes is simply that Dustin was so far ahead of the nearest challengers (nine shots at one point) that the procession inevitably became absent of the spark that had marked the first three rounds, fatigue also playing its part noting the 36-hole Sunday finish necessary due to the weather delays.
DJ led the field for the week in driving distance, strokes gained off the tee and GIR, a formidable combination and ominous for the year ahead. The dominant victory, perhaps overdue given his excellent prior record of five top-five finishes at the iconic Pacific Palisades course just off Sunset Boulevard, is more impressive given the career milestones that come with it. DJ is now only the fourth player to win at least once in every year of his first ten seasons on the ‘modern’ Tour, joining the most elite company possible in this bracket: Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. Not to mention the win has also given DJ the number 1 slot in the world rankings for the first time.
Swinging like Superman, putting just as brilliantly, he is a man of steel and power, but he is also a man of composure, calm and control. The recent Golf.com article on DJ revealed one particular story that I found fascinating. The morning after the 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay, DJ got up early for a round of golf with family friends as if nothing had happened on the final green the previous evening. Come to think of it, as he walked off the 18th green that day carrying his five month old son Tatum, he had probably gotten over the disappointment by the time he reached the scorer’s tent. Such is DJ’s attitude to life since his late 2014 sabbatical, it seems he has found the ultimate formula on and off the course and this means he could be a difficult man to shake off the top of the world rankings.
So to the weekly “how many majors will he win” discourse. The problem with DJ, Spieth, McIlroy, Day, Garcia, Stenson, Matsuyama, Rose, Thomas, Mickelson, etc etc, being top players in good form and with major winning credentials is that there are only four majors per year and they cannot all win them all. We have already heard mentioned several times this season that certain players “should” win majors. But there are only four of them a year and look at the above list of players. Look at some of the others not in that list (Fowler, Scott, Rahm, Pieters, Reed, etc etc). DJ has finished T6 and T4 in his last two Masters, but prior to that he has struggled to feature at the business end of things around Augusta. I suspect he will be thereabouts this time around, but I do not see him separating himself from the field. Augusta is just too tricky and in any case Jordan could have it won by Friday evening. Erin Hills however looks very much like a DJ course – Whistling Straits meets Chambers Bay perhaps – so I expect him to put in a strong defence of his title in Wisconsin. To The Open, whilst he has shown that he can golf his ball around links tracks before, I think that local knowledge could prove vital on this occasion. It will also be interesting to see if DJ plays in the European Tour links events in the weeks before The Open. Either way this one is not straight forward to assess. Finally the PGA, DJ has chosen to skip the regular Tour stop at Quail Hollow in the last few years, so without a form guide it is difficult to assume he will run riot at a track that so many of the top players will know inside out in tournament conditions. That’s not to say the major week set-up won’t be different and of course he has game and form that can deal with any circumstance right now, but this is hard to sustain and golf course familiarity can be decisive when it comes to the big weeks. In summary, I like him very much for the defence of his US Open, maybe a sneaky top-five at Augusta, but beyond that I am looking elsewhere.
Scrambler Pick – Honda Classic at PGA National: Last week I implored you to put your house on Charles Howell III at 66/1 for an each way windfall. Charlie put in a valiant effort, finishing T15 at -8, just three strokes back of the each way payout, but close is not close enough when you need a professional golfer to pay for your weekend beers. Stick with me though, there is a big one coming. We are getting close. T36 to T15 to a bonanza week next week. Your ticket to the Honda bonanza is right here. The Florida swing begins at Palm Beach Gardens and the ‘Bear Trap’, a course that can be brutal and punishing. Winning scores at PGA National have been single figure under par numbers in all but two of the last ten years. In fact only four players in total have managed to record -10 or better for the week in the last decade and three of them occurred in 2012. In 2015 and 2008 the winner came home in -6 for the week and in 2007 it was one lower at -5. My man for the week is Luke Donald at 55/1. T23 and T17 in the last couple of events and a course that suits his strategic nous. His rally back into the world’s top fifty is about to gather a new increased pace. Go with Luke. He also won this event in 2006 albeit that was at Mirasol the year before the tournament moved location. I am also going to take advantage of Soren Kjeldson at 200/1. He has struggled to perform on the PGA Tour the last few weeks, but he is too good to keep down and I think a tough test such as this will bring him back to the mix.