It took a while for the 2013 PGA Tour season to officially get underway, but when the extreme Maui winds finally died down on Monday, Dustin Johnson made up for lost time with a two-day birdie-filled sprint to the finish.
His double bogey on the par-4 13th hole was the only one of the week for the long-hitting 28-year-old, and appeared to open the door for 2012 champion Steve Stricker to repeat his winning ways at Kapalua. But just as quickly as the door opened, Johnson closed it, reclaiming a three-shot lead with a chip-in eagle on the drivable par-4 14th.
Johnson, who prepared for the tournament by playing six practice rounds at the Plantation Course, birdied two of his final four holes to increase his winning margin at four shots over Stricker, finishing with a final-round 68 and a tournament score of 16-under.
It was Johnson’s seventh PGA Tour victory, and strangely, his third win in a 54-hole tournament. The win means that Johnson has now claimed a Tour victory in each of his last six years on Tour, and is the first player since Tiger Woods to win a title in six consecutive years straight out of college.
Unlike many players, who were on the course on Friday and Sunday before their scores were wiped out, Johnson never hit a shot until the opening round on Monday. He concluded the first round tied with Mark Wilson and Nick Watney at 4-under-par, and then overwhelmed the Plantation Course in the afternoon with a 7-under 66 that opened up a three-stroke lead.
Johnson’s margin increased to five shots thanks to three birdies in his opening seven holes of Tuesday‘s final round. However, back-to-back birdies from Stricker to close the front nine and a bogey by Johnson on the ninth trimmed the advantage to two strokes as the final pairing made the turn.
With his third birdie on the par-4 12th in as many rounds, Johnson upped his lead to three, before it fell back to one with his double-bogey on the following hole. Johnson’s performance on No. 13 brought shades of the 2010 U.S. Open to mind, as he searched through brush and trees for a wayward tee shot. He hardly advanced with his escape attempt — but at least it wasn’t the club-turned, left-handed greenside chip that led to his demise two years ago at Pebble Beach.
Johnson quickly responded with a great tee shot to set up his chip-in eagle, and birdie fours on Nos. 15 and 18 then secured the his victory.
Stricker, who announced his intention to play a shortened schedule of 10 to 12 events this season, eased his way through the final round as he dealt with pain down his left leg. After what was surely a tiring 36-holes on Monday, the veteran plodded around the hilly layout, but faced too large a margin and competitor in Johnson to overcome. His Monday rounds (71-67) were punctuated with a chip-in eagle on the closing hole to put himself in Tuesday’s final group.
2012 FedEx Cup Champion Brandt Snedeker challenged Johnson early Tuesday, playing holes Nos. 3 through 6 in 5-under-par. However, a trio of ensuing bogeys derailed Snedeker’s threat of victory. He finished the tournament in solo third at 10-under.
Bubba Watson and Keegan Bradley both fired a tournament total 9-under to round out the top-five for the week. Rickie Fowler nearly matched Johnson’s tournament low round Tuesday, but settled for a 67 as he closed the tournament double-bogey, eagle and finished tied with Tommy Gainey in sixth place.
Some players, including Johnson, will now have a quick turnaround as the Sony Open is slated to kick off on Thursday in Honolulu at Waialae Country Club.