By Ann Liguori
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It’s been quite an exciting season in golf already thanks to multiple tour winners Dustin Johnson, who clinched his second win of the season Sunday with his one-stroke victory at the WGC Mexico Championship; Justin Thomas’ three wins, featuring a 59 he shot in the opening round of the Sony Open, which he won in January; and Hideki Matsuyama’s fine play to notch two victories.
Add in the impressive play of German rookie Jon Rahm and stars Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, each closing out wins of their own in the early going.
Rory McIlroy, back from a rib injury and in contention this past weekend, and Phil Mickelson, also in contention despite scrambling from errant tee shots, always add to the fun.
Throw in the USGA and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club rule changes meant to simplify the rules and speed up play (there will be a six-month period for comments and a proposed effect date of Jan. 1, 2019), and so far this season, golf has been mostly positive except for Tiger Woods’ continuing back issues, which keep him on the sidelines (and “horizontal,” if he’s listening to his doctor’s orders).
And clearly at the top, literally, is Johnson, who with his victory south of the border Sunday became the fifth player to win in his debut at No. 1. It was his second straight victory after a five-shot win at Riviera in the Genesis Open, a triumph that pushed him atop the world rankings.
In Mexico, he had a one-shot lead with one hole to play and hit an awkward-lying bunker shot to within 20 feet of the hole for a two-putt par to win with a 3-under 68. He overcame bogeys on holes 12 and 13. He wasn’t even putting his best, and he still won.
Since watching Johnson play near flawless golf to win his first major championship at last year’s U.S. Open at Oakmont and seeing how mentally strong he was there, even after playing under the threat of a post-round penalty because his ball moved a tad on the fifth green, there has been no doubt in my mind that the 32-year-old can dominate for years to come.
He got the monkey off his back with that U.S. Open victory, but most of us knew that a major win or wins were in his future, once his iron play improved and his putter got more consistent. Watching him win his first major championship, I saw a much more mature, dedicated, committed athlete playing with more purpose. The way he got around Oakmont, the hardest U.S. Open course, tee to green, for four straight days with such precision was more than impressive. And the way he handled the adversity sealed the deal, in my mind, that he has what it takes mentally to win many more.
Say what you will about Johnson’s “leave of absence” from the PGA Tour in 2014 (because the PGA Tour didn’t say anything about it), but it’s obvious that Johnson has shaped up, both on and off the course.
The Gretzky family — Johnson is engaged to Wayne Gretzky’s daughter, Paulina, and they have a 2-year-old son together and another boy on the way — have been a tremendous influence on Johnson. And he is playing with more purpose, commitment and discipline.
With his mammoth drives averaging over 316 yards, much-improved wedge game, more consistent putting and athleticism, he’s playing like the top-ranked player in the world.
The sky’s the limit for DJ.
Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori