Golf: Houston, Johnson has no problems

Dustin Johnson gives a fan a fist bump at the WGC-Match Play. The in-form world No. 1 is tipped to be a handful at the Masters.
Dustin Johnson gives a fan a fist bump at the WGC-Match Play. The in-form world No. 1 is tipped to be a handful at the Masters.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

He withdraws from Houston Open to put himself in prime shape to win the US Masters

WASHINGTON • Golf's world No. 1 Dustin Johnson withdrew from this week's PGA Houston Open on Monday, citing fatigue after winning seven matches last week to capture his third consecutive US PGA Tour victory.

The 32-year-old edged out Spain's Jon Rahm 1 up in Sunday's championship match of the World Golf Championships-Match Play at Austin, Texas.

He won seven matches over five days, including two each on Saturday and Sunday. It stretched his win streak that began last month at Riviera, where he surged atop the world rankings, and continued at the WGC-Mexico event three weeks ago.

With the Masters, the year's first Major championship, coming next week at Augusta National, he selected rest over the benefits of playing the week before the showdown for the green jacket.

"After a great deal of thought and consultation with my team, I have decided to withdraw from this week's Houston Open," he said. "Having played seven rounds of competitive golf in the last five days, I feel it is best to give my mind and body a much-needed rest heading into Masters week."

A COMPLETE PLAYER

He really now has become the total package. And nothing rattles him, that is a big plus.

'' BUTCH HARMON, Dustin Johnson's coach, on his charge. Putting and wedge play were regarded as some of Johnson's weaknesses in the past. The American is now seeking a second career Major title at Augusta next week.

However, he warned his Masters rivals that he is feeling unbeatable after becoming the first man to win all four World Golf Championship titles. His victory over Rahm was also the first time that a PGA Tour player had won three titles in a row since Rory McIlroy did so in 2014.

It underscored the his status as the Masters favourite and, asked about his prospects, he did not pull his punches.

"If I'm playing my best, yeah, I'll play against anybody any time."

To add to the challenge for the rest of the field, he has form at Augusta, where he tied for fourth last year.

"I really like the golf course," said the US Open champion. "It's one of my favourite tournaments. I've played good there for the last two years so I'm excited to go back when the game is in good form."

His victory on the final hole in Texas stopped a great comeback from Rahm, who conceded that his opponent was "the perfect, complete player".

Butch Harmon, Johnson's coach, is among those to compare the American with the greatest player of this generation, Tiger Woods.

Harmon speaks from a position of authority - he coached Woods when in his prime.

"He drives it great, like Tiger back in the day," said Harmon. "He's a good putter, not great, but good. He has learnt to hit irons off tees which I've been pushing for seven years and has a three-iron with a graphite shaft that he hits miles.

"He really now has become the total package. And nothing rattles him, that is a big plus."

While this praise is legitimate, there should be no assumption that Johnson's results are unique or that he will automatically prevail at Augusta National on April 9.

"I don't care," said Johnson, when asked what difference short-priced favouritism for the first Major of the year makes to him.

Perhaps it is just as well. A glance at the Masters roll of honour shows one must go back to 2005 and Woods for the last time a pre-tournament favourite prevailed.

The obvious explanation for this relates to the Masters narrative. It is easy for players to place too much pressure on themselves, given the elongated lead-up to Augusta. Eight months pass between the US PGA Championship and the Masters.

Another crucial element is course specialism. Augusta demands specific qualities far removed from other courses and garnered only through considerable experience.

Johnson, for example, could never have been considered a Masters hope before the improvement in his chipping which has been so clear in the past year.

He is quite obviously the form horse as the Masters edges towards its 81st edition.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN, THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 29, 2017, with the headline 'Houston, Johnson has no problems'. Print Edition | Subscribe