Not even Tiger Woods can boast all of the four World Golf Championship titles in his crammed trophy cabinet. But Dustin Johnson can after underlining his status as world No 1 here on Sunday after surviving a remarkable fightback from John Rahm.
This was Johnson’s third win is as many starts and in adding this Dell Match Play title to the Mexico Championship he won earlier this month, Johnson became the first player, other that Woods, to win back-to-back WGCs.
Surely next week’s Masters cannot come soon enough for the laid back American after his tense one-up victory over the brilliant young Spaniard, in which he had to retain his nerve after witnessing a five-hole advantage whittled back to one.
It was as much a feat of stamina as it was of guts as in the morning semi-final Johnson also had to thwart a resurrection from Hideto Taniwara, with the Japanese recovering form three down before succumbing, like Rahm, on the 18th. Both turned maulings into nail-biters. But the very best get it done and there can be no doubt that the 32-year-old is the very best at the moment.
“Wow, today was a real tough day, but the way I stayed in there and came through, I’m proud,” Johnson said. “You know, I didn't give Jon any holes except for 10. He is a great player and with all that potential is going to be a great player for a long time.”
The final was billed as the peerless present taking on the fearless future and it certainly lived up to all the hype. Rahm, the 22-year-old, was trying to become the fastest player this century to enter the world’s top 10 after turning pro and the third fastest since the rankings were incepted in 1986, behind Woods and fellow Spaniard Sergio Garcia.
Instead, Rahm, who only joined the paid ranks less than 10 months ago, had to be content with climbing to 14th in the rankings, as well as moving on to many people’s betting lists for Augusta.
Be sure, he is the next big thing. Rahm did incredibly well to take it down the 18th, after such a poor start, displaying aggression, creativity and sheer chutzpah of which even his countryman Severiano Ballesteros would have been proud.
After blowing away the American Bill Haas 3&2 in the morning semi-finals, Rahm showed none of that poise when falling five behind Johnson after just eight holes.
At the stage, Rahm’s earlier declaration that he yearned to play Johnson seemed ill-judged indeed. He was still smarting from losing down the stretch to Johnson in Mexico City. “I want to play who is playing the best right now, Rahm said. “Honestly it would be great to play DJ. Ever since Mexico I've been wanting that rematch.”
Careful what you wish for, has rarely seemed a more apt saying as Rahm strode to the ninth tee, head bowed. But Johnson failed to get up and down from a bunker on the ninth and when Johnson three-putted the 10th there was a shaft of light for Rahm.
The par-five 12th was most notable for the ridiculous distance of the two drives. Johnson launched his 424 yards – and still found himself 15 yards behind Rahm. Some will say it was fun to watch, but as Johnson hit a wedge into the green and Rahm hit a lob wedge, it was hard not to reflect on the recent survey conducted by the R&A and USGA, which somehow arrived at the verdict that, no, the ball is not travelling too far. Shameless.
That hole was most notable for the ridiculous distance of the two drives. Johnson launched his 424 yards – and still found himself 15 yards behind Rahm. Some will say it was fun to watch, but as Johnson hit a wedge into the green and Rahm hit a lob wedge, it was hard not to reflect on the recent survey conducted by the R&A and USGA, which somehow reached the verdict that, no, the ball is not travelling too far. Shameless.
Rahm lost that with a par but pulled it back to just two down with birdies on the 13th and 15th. And then he rode his luck on the par-five 16th when slicing his drive wildly into the tress and then somehow, and rather fortunately, avoiding wood on the way through to the fairway. Rahm proceeded to hole a 20-footer and his celebration said it all. When Johnson missed his 10-footer, there was, to the disbelief of the audience, only one in it.
Rahm made a marvellous up and down on the 17th and then summed up his growing confidence by taking on the green on the 18th, some 360 yards away. He got there, too. In fact, he got past there.
Rahm’s ball rolled to the back of the putting surface, leaving an exceptionally tricky chip. As he was playing the shot, a door slammed in the background and the best he could manage was to within 25 feet, allowing Johnson gratefully to scrape in with the par. Yet what a show Rahm had given Austin Country Club.