Golf: Top seed Johnson faces Rahm in WGC final

Dustin Johnson waves after putting for birdie on the 1st hole of his match during the semi-finals.
Dustin Johnson waves after putting for birdie on the 1st hole of his match during the semi-finals.PHOTO: AFP

MIAMI (AFP) - Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm advanced to the final of the World Golf Championships Match-Play on Sunday (March 26), setting up a showdown between the world No.1 and one of the game’s brightest stars.

Johnson defeated Japanese star Hideto Tanihara 1-up Sunday in the semi-finals of the IS$9.75 million (S$13.6 million) PGA Tour event.

Spain’s Rahm had an easier time ousting Bill Haas 3 and 2 and the winners will square off in the championship match on Sunday afternoon.

Former FedEx Cup champion Haas and Tanihara will play for third place on the Austin Country Club course in Texas.

Johnson closed out the match by making a five-foot putt on 18 after a birdie on 17. He had a 2-up lead heading into the 13th but poor putting on his part and back-to-back birdies by Tanihara left them all square after 14 holes. He had three lip outs on short putts at numbers 10, 14 and 15.

“Man it was a tough one,” Johnson said. “I hit a lot of great putts on the back nine. I hit the hole on 10, 11, 14, 15, 16. I hit great putts just nothing would go in.

“I finally made two putts on 17 and 18 to win the match.”

Johnson, who won the WGC Mexico Championship earlier this month, is seeking to become the first player to win each of the four WGC events, with this being the only one missing from his trophy case.

He took over the top perch in the world golf rankings by winning his last two tournaments, the Genesis Open and the WGC Mexico. He is seeking to become the first player to win three straight starts on the PGA Tour since Rory McIlroy in 2014.

Johnson could also match Tiger Woods as the only players to win consecutive WGC events.

Tanihara made Johnson work for the victory as he almost delivered the biggest upset of the tournament.

Tanihara can look back on the week with pride as he earned his best PGA Tour finish, topping his two top-10 finishes in 43 previous career starts. He joins Toru Taniguchi as the lone players from Asia to reach the semis of this event.

For some time now Rahm has been a rising star in the sport. He is a former world No.1 amateur and is showing the ability to transition that success to the big stage.

If Rahm beats Johnson in the championship match he will jump inside the top-10 of the official world golf rankings while also moving to fourth in the FedEx Cup standings.

“He is a great young player,” Johnson said of Rahm. “He is playing really good right now so I think it is going to be a good match. We will see what happens.”