Golf: A wild start to the season

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 10, 2013

Associated Press
KAPALUA, Hawaii— The power of Dustin Johnson is undeniable, especially the way his ball pierced through the wind at Kapalua. His touch with the short game doesn’t get much attention, even though two such shots were pivotal to his win in the Tournament of Champions. His lack of fear is becoming his trademark.
Johnson believes there are no limits to what he can achieve in golf, as long as he keeps mistakes to a minimum and makes better decisions.
And even that doesn’t always stop him.
With a pair of wild tee shots mixed in with a chip-in for eagle, Johnson won the PGA Tour’s season opener on Tuesday by closing with a 5-under 68 for a four-shot victory over Steve Stricker, extending his streak of winning every season in the six years since he left college.
Don’t be fooled by the score or the margin. This was a lot closer than it needed to be.
“It was nowhere near ho-hum,” Johnson said.
He made sure of that by staying aggressive even when he had a five-shot lead with 11 holes to play in the final round Tuesday.
Johnson took a big swing with the driver on the par-5 ninth and the ball vanished into high grass, costing him two shots. He still managed only a bogey, however, because he walked back to the tee with the same club and hammered that one down the left side, far enough that he could reach the green in two.
On the 13th hole, coming off a birdie to rebuild his lead to three shots, Johnson blasted driver to the left into bushes and tall grass, leading to another double bogey. That cut the lead to one shot, and when Johnson reached the 14th tee, he didn’t hesitate.
Out came the driver.
“I was like, ‘Dude, what are you doing?’ He took out driver on a couple holes and he let me back in the game,” Stricker said. “We’re walking up 15 and I was like, ‘Why don’t you take iron out, make me have to make birdies instead of you hitting it in the trees and opening it up for me?’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah, yeah, I know.’
“But he’s got a lot of talent,” Stricker said. “It looks like very little fear in him, because he’ll hit one a little crooked but he’ll pull out that driver again and try it again. And he pulled it off, especially at 14. That was the deciding shot and chipt.”
That it was.
Stricker was safely in the fairway on the 14th, which plays dead into the wind with bunkers down the right side and big trouble even farther to the right, the kind of grass where golf balls are never found. The prudent shot would be a 3-iron to leave a short pitch to the green. Johnson smashed his tee shot, a tight draw, that rolled up to the green and fell back. No problem. He chipped in for eagle, Stricker smiled and slapped hands with him, and Johnson was on his way.
Johnson hit another delicate pitch-and-run up a dangerous slope on the 15th to match Stricker’s birdie and stay three ahead. It was only fitting that this weird, windy week ended with such a wild ride.
The tournament was supposed to end Monday. That’s when it started after gusts topping 40 mph forced officials to scrap the first round on Friday and Sunday, with no golf played on Saturday. The tournament was reduced to 54 holes.
Once it started, it ended about 29 hours later.
Johnson also added a peculiar footnote to his record. He now has won the last three PGA Tour events reduced to 54 holes because of weather — rain at Pebble Beach in 2009, a hurricane at The Barclays in 2011 and gusts that topped 40 mph in Hawaii from a freak weather pattern that led to a bizarre season opener.