American Dustin Johnson overcame a slow start to finish strongly in winning the WGC-HSBC Champions at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai on Sunday. Johnson fired a final round 66 to post a tournament record 24-under-par 264 that saw him hold off Englishman Ian Poulter by three shots while Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell rounded off the podium one shot further back.
To begin the final round Johnson stood on the first tee with a three-shot lead. After one hole it was down to one as he made bogey and Poulter and McDowell made birdies. Poulter and McDowell continued to make birdies on the front nine and Johnson eventually lost his lead to Poulter on No. 5. Instead of panicking and taking on every fairway and every flag, Johnson continued to roll in par putts and bide his time. His patience paid off on Nos. 8 and 9 as he closed his outward nine birdie-birdie to right the ship. He played the final six holes five-under to reclaim the lead and run away with the tournament, highlighted by a chip-in eagle on No. 16 to give him a three-shot lead with just two to play. By then, Poulter and McDowell, who fired matching 66s as well, ran out of bullets and Johnson claims his eighth victory on TOUR.
After racking up TWENTY birdies on Friday and Saturday, I don’t think there were many folks who thought he wouldn’t close the deal on Sunday. The part that I found most interesting was his play on the back nine on Sunday. He was only two-under for the week coming in before he blasted 31 to close out and win. He didn’t “hang on”; he went out and took the golf tournament from two players who have plenty of victories worldwide and have been in plenty of high pressure situations.
So has Johnson.
Plenty of them.
It’s been documented plenty of times in my columns about his near misses at the Masters, U.S. Open, Open Championship and the PGA. It’s also been documented that he can win on multiple styles of tracks. He’s now racked up eight victories and has won in EVERY season, seven of them, that he’s been a professional. Only Tiger Woods can claim that he’s also won in his first seven seasons on TOUR. He’s now won a TOUR event, a TOUR Pro-Am event twice, a WGC event and two FEC Playoff events. He’s as legit as it gets and the next stop for the 29-year-old is raising the trophy at one of the four majors. He’s won everything else!
For the week, Johnson did NOT lead the field in birdies with 28, believe it or not. To show you how dominant he was, he set the tournament record by four shots and MADE THREE DOUBLE BOGEYS on the week! He led the field in GIR and led the field in putts per GIR. Most guys who lock those spots up Sunday night are usually holding the trophy and Johnson is no different. Johnson finished T39 here last year at three-under but that included at third round 84. His other three rounds were 67-68-66. This year he fired 69-63-65-66. I think horse-for-course status works here as well. Plus, he did all of this with his brother on the bag!
With this victory, Johnson collects $1,400,000 and 550 FedExCup points.
Déjà vu All Over Again?
After winning 31 of 40 tournaments in 2013, the USA is now four from four in 2013-14 as American Dustin Johnson joins Jimmy Walker, Webb Simpson and Ryan Moore as the winners in this new season.
For the second season in a row Dustin Johnson won his season opener. Weird.
There were 12, first-time winners in the 2013 season and just six players with multiple victories (Woods, Mickelson, Kuchar, Snedeker, Scott and Stenson). In 2013-14, we now have a first-timer and three young studs that have won the first four events.
Only 17 of the 38, 54-hole leaders went on to win last year in full-field, stroke play events. This season, three of the first four winners have closed the 54-hole deal.
In the return to Sheshan, we will take away one thing for next year that is irrefutable: this course is easy. It’s now seen a course record in the last two editions, Martin Kaymer’s 20-under in 2011 and Johnson’s 24-under this year. Don’t forget, Johnson racked up TWENTY EIGHT birdies and didn’t even lead the field!
Johnson becomes just the second Yank to win at Sheshan. He joins two-time winner Phil Mickelson (2007, 2009) in this elite club.
Of the eight winners at Sheshan since 2005, all have been No. 30 or better in OWGR entering the week. Only Y.E. Yang, No. 77 in 2006, is the exception to this rule. Big time players win this event, period. There is no reason to deviate from that theory.
All eight winners have represented their respective countries in the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup. #moreproof
The top four players this week all played last week in Asia. Justin Rose did not. Told you this was an easy course. There’s a reason why guys pick back up their schedules on courses like this!
Young Guns versus Prime Time versus Old Guys
This is the part of the column where I list the winners and their age. Jimmy Walker (34) started the season out on the right foot for the Prime Time guys and was joined by Ryan Moore (30) last week. Webb Simpson and Dustin Johnson have put the twentysomethings on the board as the Young Guns have half of the wins. The Old Guys have yet to strike but Ernie Els, 44, hit T11.
What I learned from the finishers in the top 10
Ian Poulter: After taking a month off after not qualifying for The TOUR Championship, Poulter’s China-two-step reinforced to gamers that he lives for the later part of the season. Last year’s champion of this event, albeit on another course, was up to his old tricks again as he used his T15 last week at the BMW Masters to springboard him to solo second. In his last three events on this course, he’s finished T13 twice and second this week. Write that down for next year.
Graeme McDowell: His only top 25 this summer after his victory in France was T12 at the PGA Championship in August. He didn’t inspire any confidence last week as he broke par once in four rounds at the BMW Masters. What a difference a week makes! GMAC cranked out a bogey-free weekend in firing 64-66 and only carded three bogeys for the week. He was T2 in GIR and after finishing 144th in the 2013 season, I would argue he was quite pleased and gamers were quite surprised. His last two finishes on the Sheshan track are third and third.
Sergio Garcia: We knew the 2008 champion (became a WGC event in 2009) likes it around these parts and that combined with his recent excellent run-of-form made him an easy selection for most gamers this week. He made nine of his 23 birdies for the week in a bogey-free 63 on Sunday to take fourth alone. He backed up his excellent FEC run with T11 last week at CIMB and his excellent form continued this week.
Justin Rose: The last time we saw the excellent Englishman was at the The TOUR Championship as he finished sixth alone. This week, he’s fifth alone so the drum beats on for the 2013 U.S. Open champion and his excellent play continues. The renowned ball-striker was just that again this week as he finished T3 in fairways and T2 in GIR. If not for two doubles he could have been pushing the three on the podium. If he’s in the field, he should be on your radar. It’s that simple and he’s that good. Oh, and he made four bogeys this week and he hasn’t played in a month.
Rory McIlroy: He’s not “back” but his game is moving in the right direction. I’m on the record weekly stating that I think he’ll be back to his winning ways sooner or later and the last two weeks haven’t shown me anything to change my mind. The first round leader stumbled to par in round two but he rallied for 67-69 on the weekend, with only one bogey, to finish T6. Here’s why I like where he is going. He was 75th (of 78 players, 77 if you count Matsuyama’s WD) in driving accuracy but was T12 GIR. Imagine where he would have finished if he hit any fairways! He was barely in the top half of putting as well. There’s room for improvement but he still found a top 10 playing against an elite field. Onward and upward and I’m on board.
Graham DeLaet: The Canadian keeps proving he belongs but for the second week a double bogey on Sunday kept him from finishing even higher. The good news is that he keeps putting himself in contention on courses that he hasn’t had much experience playing. His game travels, period. He only made four bogeys, plus the dreaded double, on the week and was T7 in fairways and seventh in GIR. That recipe works and he proved to me with T7 and T6 in consecutive weeks in Asia that there’s nothing I should worry about with him moving forward.
Jamie Donaldson: His weekend consisted of 10 birdies, an eagle and only one bogey as he hits the top 10 for the first time ever in a WGC event with T8. He opened with 79 last week at the BMW so he didn’t make it on to my radar even though he played his final three rounds last week under par. This was his first time at a WGC event and his first time on this course. He was T6 the previous event at the Portugal Masters so he ended up being a nice, calculated flier for someone this week not named Glass…
Bubba Watson: Another Sheshan virgin, Watson rallied from his T31 finish last week to put all four rounds in the 60s this week in his T8 finish. This will be a major confidence booster for Watson who hasn’t had the most spectacular record on foreign soil. Watson hit plenty of greens, as usual, but his driver and putter kept him from contending. This was Watson’s first top 10 since his T4 at the Travelers in late June so you’ll forgive me for fading him this week!
Martin Kaymer: Well, you’ve been reading this long and were wondering who made the most birdies this week and here’s your answer. The German, who set the tournament record here in 2011 with 20-under, carded TWENTY NINE birdies (of 72 holes) on the week to finish T8. He also broke his own course record (shared with a few) on Saturday as he smoked Sheshan for 10 birdies and 62. This was his third top 10 finish in four starts here and he was a decent shout for OAD (T8). Kaymer’s form and course history came together this week but he just had too many bogeys, 11, to crack the big bucks. Since he was eliminated from the FedExCup Playoffs, he posted T7, T13, T13 and now T8 in his last four outings. If he’s not on your season-long salary cap game, make it so.
Catching up on those who looked oh-so-good on Tuesday afternoon…
Phil Mickelson: Well, he is one of the few guys to win a tournament when making a QUAD, but this wasn’t going to be the week. Mickelson finished all alone in 14th place even though he made a staggering 25 birdies (T3). After hitting it everywhere last week, he “found something” as he usually does before teeing it up at a place he’s won at twice. His numbers looked great (T10, GIR; sixth in putts per GIR) but he was too far off the pace after an even-par 72 on Saturday. His 65 on Sunday (eight birdies, one bogey) was nice for us, like me, who put him in the GolfChannel.com Fantasy game.
Keegan Bradley: Another week, another very solid finish. This week, he started off slowly, instead of peeling the tires and taking off like he did last week. His 71 was followed by 68-68-68 as Bradley finished his Far East swing 10th and T11 this week. Just keep putting him in your line up. He’s completely legit.
Jimmy Walker: You can’t say I’m not loyal! Walker finally ran out of gas this week as he made only 15 birdies and 12 bogeys to finish well off the pace. He didn’t hit many fairways or greens and didn’t hole any putts either. He did collect a nice check and after his solo sixth last week, his 2013-14 is still flying along. I’m not going to let one bad week, T46, from four bum me out especially when he hasn’t seen this track before.
Sergio Garcia: See above, fourth.
Rory McIlroy: See above, T6.
Brandt Snedeker: Usually a fast starter after time off, Snedeker didn’t find the 60s in any of his four rounds this week. Heck, he even had a birdie-free round in a tournament where 24-under was the winning score. I’ll chalk it up to rust and not making any putts as 13 birdies wasn’t going to put a dent in anything this week.
Jason Dufner: His T34 included only two rounds under par and his final round 72 saw him drop from T22 to T34. His eight birdies and seven bogeys on the weekend kept him from making a charge. He’s been on the every-other-event schedule since his win at the PGA so next time out he’ll be back in the top 10. No worries since this was his first event in over a month.
Francesco Molinari: In five events here he’s won, finished T9, T10, T23 and now adds T21 to this impressive collection. He’s automatic when this event returns next year. He’s horse-for-course.
Justin Rose: He finished fifth, see above.
Jordan Spieth: Remember, he CHOSE not to play in the WGC-BI back in August before the PGA because he believed he needed to stay on his rookie-year schedule. The rest of the season worked out quite well, remember? This week was his first WGC event with 40 of the top 50 players in the world participating and he was solo 17th. He only made 25 birdies, the same number as Mickelson, on a course he’s never played on before. I jumped on in the middle of last summer. What are YOU waiting for???
Lee Westwood: This was the first time in six starts that he finished outside of the top 13. Read that again. How was I going to leave him out based on those numbers? His triple on Sunday combined with two previous doubles and 12 bogeys added up to T55. Blargh.
And the analysis doesn't end here. Rotoworld's Rob Bolton and I will be co-hosting a one-hour live chat WEDNESDAY at NOON ET. We will be breaking down the field at the The McGladrey Classic and answering your questions. Simply return to the golf home page to join in on the chatter. Don’t forget to follow Rob (http://twitter.com/RobBoltonGolf) and Glass (http://twitter.com/mikeglasscott) on Twitter.