John­son hits new heights with ti­tle in Mex­ico City

Win leaves no doubt fol­low­ing his re­cent jump to No. 1 rank.

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS - By Doug Fer­gu­son

Fresh off his vic­tory at Riviera that el­e­vated Dustin John­son to the top of the world rank­ing, the ques­tion was how he would han­dle the ex­pec­ta­tions and at­ten­tion that come with be­ing No. 1.

“I’ve only been No. 1 for about 30 min­utes,” he said. “Ask me in a cou­ple of weeks.”

Two weeks later, there was no need.

John­son faced the strong­est field of the year at the Mex­ico Cham­pi­onship. He was so pre­oc­cu­pied with how far the ball was fly­ing at nearly 7,800 feet that he played only 18 holes over two prac­tice days at Cha­pul­te­pec Golf Club. The greens were so per­plex­ing that he con­verted only nine of 17 putts from in­side 5 feet, and he missed six putts from the 6-foot range or closer in the open­ing round alone. And he still won. John­son is not ob­sessed with the world rank­ing. But he un­der­stands he is the tar­get now, and he em­braces it.

“You look at the leader­board, there’s a few names you don’t want to see,” John­son said. “Mine would be one of them.”

He doesn’t claim that mea­sure of in­tim­i­da­tion to be his alone.

No one wanted to see Rory McIl­roy’s name any­where near the top when his three straight vic­to­ries in the sum­mer of 2014 were a World Golf Cham­pi­onship sand­wiched be­tween two ma­jors. No one wanted any part of Jor­dan Spi­eth in 2015 when he was pur­su­ing the Grand Slam, or Ja­son Day when he was winning seven times in 17 tour­na­ments, in­clud­ing a record score in the PGA Cham­pi­onship.

“The com­pe­ti­tion is so good out there it’s a joke,” John­son said. “There’s a few guys out there that have a tar­get.”

None is big­ger at the mo­ment.

John­son has earned five PGA Tour vic­to­ries in his last 15 starts dat­ing to the U.S. Open last sum­mer at Oak­mont. His other vic­to­ries were two World Golf Cham­pi­onships, a FedEx Cup play­off event and the Ge­n­e­sis Open at Riviera, which had the strong­est field of regular PGA Tour events.

He closed with a 3-un­der 68 on Sun­day, his 12th con­sec­u­tive round un­der par.

Dat­ing to the start of 2016, he has fin­ished among the top 10 in 20 out of 29 tour­na­ments world­wide.

“He has the po­ten­tial to crack on for the next few years or a decade and be the dominant player, if he plays the golf we’ve seen him play,” Paul Casey said.

The PGA Tour leans on a pop­u­lar cat­e­gory called “strokes gained” that mea­sures how a player per­forms com­pared with the rest of the field from tee-to-green and with putting. Casey has cre­ated his own statis­tic for John­son that can’t be mea­sured.

“No­body ever talks about strokes gained men­tally,” Casey said. “Strokes gained at­ti­tude, he’s prob­a­ble No. 1.”

John­son has 14 vic­to­ries in his 10th year on the PGA Tour, which in­cludes four World Golf Cham­pi­onships, the most of any­one ex­cept for Tiger Woods, who won 18 of them. The West­gate Las Ve­gas Su­per­book listed him as the 6-1 fa­vorite to win the Mas­ters.

Odds are, he will be No. 1 when he gets there.

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