Becoming number one in the world in Golf is a special achievement. Staying there is something else, particularly with fields as deep and competitive as they have been since the demise of Tiger Woods.
Since the beginning of the rankings system, 20 men have stood above everyone else and after last Sunday’s WGC event in Mexico five have triumphed in their first official start in the coveted position at the top of the world.
Dustin Johnson‘s victory in the biggest limited-entry event of the season (49 of the world’s top 50 teed it up in South America) saw him follow in the footsteps of Ian Woosnam, David Duval, Vijay Singh and Adam Scott to win at the first time of asking under the title ‘best player in the world.’
It was Johnson’s second win in as many starts after picking up the title at the Genesis Open two weeks previously and with spring round the corner the Masters at the beginning of April is starting to become a hot topic of conversation.
Four events will take place between now and the year’s first major, though with the exception of the often unpredictable Dell Match Play, last weekend witnessed the final time the top 10 in the world would share a golf course in a stroke play event before heading to August at the start of next month.
Johnson has staked the biggest claim so far this year, two wins, a series of top tens and the new status of world number one would seem to give him a slight edge. Tall, perfectly built and powerful, Johnson would seem to epitomise the everything golf symbolises in the twenty first century. Sheer distance, matched with a better than average short game is enough to get through 72 holes of golf with a better score than anyone else in the field.
The only weakness if any, comes on the greens and while Johnson mastered perhaps the toughest surfaces in the whole of the United States to win the US Open at Oakmont last June, if there is a weakness it lies with the flat stick. There’s still doubts, very small though they may be becoming, too about his mental fortitude in wake of last year’s final round at the Tour Championship. With the tournament at his mercy and $10million on the line, Johnson shot the highest score of anyone in the field of 30. As his chasers shot mid to high 60s, the American laboured to a messy 73.
Given the past two weeks, Johnson would be a more than worthy winner at Augusta in April, but if there is one thing 2017 has shown to this point, it is that the pursuers have all staked a claim for a run at the green jacket.
Including Sergio Garcia‘s European Tour triumph in Dubai in February, six of the world’s top 10 have already won on Tour this season and Justin Thomas, along with Johnson, has reached the winners’ circle twice.
Thomas was in scintillating form at the start of the year, lapping the field twice in Hawaii including shooting a 59 in the opening round of the Sony Open. Thomas was in the final group for the last two rounds in Mexico before eventually ending up tied fifth.
At Pebble Beach, Jordan Spieth found his deadly putting touch to dominate the rest on the Monterrey Peninsula, while Rickie Fowler was cool as ever under pressure to drive away from the Honda Classic victorious.
Then there was Hideki Matsuyama‘s repeat success at the Phoenix Open, showing everyone that his run of wins against depleted fields carried over from last year was no fluke.
As well as Garcia’s win, Rory McIlroy has also been knocking at the door, and has held the lead in the two events he has played this season- one blighted by injury thus far. The four-time major champ held or shared the lead at the South African Open and last weekend in Mexico. Both were very un-Rory like finishes though. Usually a man so strong at leading from the front, the Northern Irishman lost in a play off in January before coming up four shots short of Johnson last Sunday.
With Phil Mickelson not going anywhere either, and Spanish sensation Jon Rahm appearing at the sharp end of Sunday leaderboards on a regular basis the prospect of one of the closest finishes in Augusta history becomes more possible with every passing week.
Johnson will have a big say in that, however. His ranking is fully deserved and last week’s win, with expectation higher than ever, silenced a lot of doubters.
He’s now favourite to make the most noise in Georgia next month.
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