The crown fi­nally fits John­son

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTING LIFE -

LOS AN­GE­LES — The only ques­tion about Dustin John­son go­ing to No. 1 in the world is: What took so long? The tal­ent was never an is­sue. Jor­dan Spi­eth once re­ferred to John­son as “a freak ath­lete,” a term rarely heard in golf.

Pat Perez was partly in awe and partly ex­as­per­ated Sun­day as he stood be­hind the 10th green dur­ing the fi­nal round at Riviera and said: “The guy hits it 40 yards by me, hits his short irons great and makes 30-foot putts. What do you do?” Crown him. Fi­nally. John­son looked like a world-beater against the strong­est field of the year at the Ge­n­e­sis Open. He went 49 con­sec­u­tive holes with­out a bo­gey. Dur­ing the third round Sun­day morn­ing, when he shot a 7-un­der 64 and built a five-shot lead, his two long­est par putts were from 4 feet. On the 606-yard 17th hole in the sec­ond round, on a day when no one could get it back to the flag, John­son went over the green.

With his five-shot vic­tory, he be­came the 20th player since the world rank­ing be­gan in 1986 to reach No. 1. And it never crossed his mind. Nei­ther did the 72-hole scor­ing record at Riviera — set in 1985 by Lanny Wad­kins at 20-un­der 264 — mak­ing it the old­est such record on the PGA Tour sched­ule. John­son didn’t even know what the record was, nor did he care. He was at 20 un­der af­ter mak­ing his 21st birdie of the week at the par-3 sixth, played it safe from there with a big lead and closed with three mean­ing­less bo­geys for a 71.

“Win­ning the golf tour­na­ment ... that’s what I was here to do,” John­son said.

That’s what he’s been do­ing ever since his rookie sea­son. John­son has won ev­ery year on the PGA Tour ex­cept for 2014, which was cut short when he stepped away for six months to seek pro­fes­sional help for per­sonal chal­lenges amid a pub­lished re­port he had tested pos­i­tive twice for drugs.

He found guid­ance from hockey great Wayne Gret­zky. John­son is en­gaged to the Great One’s daugh­ter and they have a two-year-old son. Paulina Gret­zky an­nounced this week on In­sta­gram that an­other one is on the way.

Gret­zky’s words carry a lot of weight on and off the golf course.

“When an ath­lete of his stature ... thinks very highly of you, it def­i­nitely gives you a lot of con­fi­dence and gives you more be­lief,” John­son said.

John­son won in his fifth tour­na­ment back from that six-month break to get back into the top 10 in the world, and it’s been a slow rise ever since. He won his first ma­jor in the U.S. Open at Oak­mont the fol­low­ing year, added his third World Golf Cham­pi­onships ti­tle, a Fed-Ex Cup play­off event, and swept all the big awards, start­ing with PGA Tour player of the year. And now he’s No. 1. “No sur­prise to us play­ers, and I don’t think too much sur­prise to many oth­ers,” Spi­eth said.

Dat­ing back to that U.S. Open vic­tory, John­son has won four times in the last eight months against the strong­est fields in golf. In 16 tour­na­ments since, he has fin­ished no worse than third place in eight of them.

He could hear chants of “No. 1” when he walked up to the 18th green at Riviera, with fans crammed onto the hill­side be­low the sto­ried club­house. When he tapped in for par, he headed for the side of the green to­ward his fi­ancé to pick up their young son.

John­son will be in Mex­ico City in two weeks where Ja­son Day, who had spent 47 weeks at the top of the rank­ing, will try to take it back.

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