Golf: Can't take their eyes off him

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson on his way to victory at the WGC-Mexico Championship. The American is only the fifth player after Ian Woosnam, David Duval, Vijay Singh and Adam Scott to win his first tournament after becoming world No. 1.
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson on his way to victory at the WGC-Mexico Championship. The American is only the fifth player after Ian Woosnam, David Duval, Vijay Singh and Adam Scott to win his first tournament after becoming world No. 1.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Johnson triumphs under media glare in first win since topping rankings

MEXICO CITY • Dustin Johnson emerged from the scorer's area after his third round at the WGC-Mexico Championship on Saturday and locked eyes with the PGA Tour media official assigned to shepherd him through a news media maze, from broadcasters to bloggers and everyone in between.

Johnson is, after all, the world No. 1 and all eyes were on him.

He did not complain, but his pleading eyes conveyed that the fewer stops, the better.

On Sunday, the American made the attention harder to dodge after topping an elite field that boasted 49 of the top 50 players in the world, with the ill No. 2 Jason Day the only absentee.

The long hitter surrendered a big lead on the back nine before securing a one-stroke victory over Englishman Tommy Fleetwood at Club de Golf Chapultepec.

Johnson finished at 14-under 270 for his second consecutive victory, after winning the Genesis Open two weeks ago. That five-stroke victory at Riviera in California vaulted him to the top of the world rankings for the first time.

THE CROWN IS HEAVY

It means a lot. It's a tough spot to be in. There's a lot of pressures. I came out and played really well.

DUSTIN JOHNSON, on how it felt to win on his debut as No. 1.

If he felt the pressure in Mexico, it hardly showed.

"It means a lot," Johnson, who shot 68 in the final round, said in a greenside interview when asked how it felt to win on his debut as No. 1 - the fifth man after Ian Woosnam, David Duval, Vijay Singh and Adam Scott to have done so.

"It's a tough spot to be in. There's a lot of pressures on you. I came out and played really well."

The victory was a reward for his patience, after he started the tournament by hitting his drive out of bounds at the very first hole.

He also avoided getting frustrated by the bumpy greens, unlike many of his rivals, and worked his way back to build a four-stroke advantage over 22-year-old Spaniard Jon Rahm (68) with eight holes remaining on Sunday, only to give up his lead with back-to-back bogeys.

Johnson again remained calm, avoided any further dropped shots in a three-under round and tapped in at the last from a few inches.

Fleetwood (66) birdied the last to claim second place on 13-under. Rahm faded late to tie for third with Englishman Ross Fisher (65) on 12-under.

Overnight leader Justin Thomas faltered with a 72 to finish three strokes behind, tied for fifth.

Johnson, 32, has now won 14 times on the PGA Tour, including four victories in World Golf Championships events.

"I felt like I hit the ball great all week," he said. "The greens, they're tough to putt on. I didn't putt my best but I really hit the ball well and played just well enough I guess, because I've won by one."

World No. 3 Rory McIlroy, who could have taken back the No. 1 spot with a victory plus a finish by Johnson outside the top four, made a bogey on the third hole and never found his rhythm.

He closed with a 71 to finish tied for seventh on 274 in his first start since a rib injury in mid-January.

"I was hoping to improve as the week went on," McIlroy said.

"That was obviously the plan, that's the plan every week.

"I hit it pretty well every day but the course changed a little bit as the week went on and I didn't quite adjust to it."

For Johnson , that first Major, the Masters next month, cannot come quickly enough.

NYTIMES, REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2017, with the headline 'Can't take their eyes off him'. Print Edition | Subscribe