Johnson wins Match Play to sweep World Golf Championships

Updated at: 03/29/2017 6:59 PM
By DOUG FERGUSON

Dustin Johnson
Dustin Johnson
Photo: AP

(AP) AUSTIN, Texas - AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The final day lasted longer than Dustin Johnson wanted. The outcome was what everyone expected.

Johnson, a golfing machine with no discernible weakness and hardly any pulse, won the Dell Technologies Match Play on Sunday for his third straight victory, this one making him the first person to sweep the four World Golf Championships.

He had to work the hardest for this title.

Johnson was taken to the 18th hole in the semifinal before making an 8-foot putt to beat Hideto Tanihara, and then Jon Rahm rallied from 5 down with 10 holes to play until his fearless charge fell short on the final hole.

Johnson tapped in a 30-inch putt for a 1-up victory, completing a dominant week in which he never trailed in the 112 holes he played over seven matches.

"What am I going to say that you guys don't know?" Rahm said. "If his putter had been hot, I wouldn't have had a chance, no question. ... It's amazing how he's able to keep cool the entire round. It amazes me. And he's just a perfect, complete player."

Johnson now has 15 victories in his career, six of them dating to his first major at the U.S. Open last summer at Oakmont. Three of them were World Golf Championships at the Bridgestone Invitational, the Mexico Championship and the Match Play. He won the HSBC Champions in Shanghai in 2013.

Asked to size up his feat, Johnson said, "Pretty good."

There's really not much else to say. He led 94 percent of the holes he played at Austin Country Club, a tournament record. He won 46 of those 112 holes. When asked about his pulse on Saturday, Johnson said, "It's beating."

And on Sunday?

"It got a little faster than I would have liked starting on about 16," he said with a smile. "But I was able to hang in there."

Johnson was 4 up with six holes to play when Rahm, a bold Spanish rookie with a big game, hit driver over the water and onto the 13th green to win the hole with a birdie. He stuck a wedge close on the 15th for another birdie. Rahm hit a shot through the trees on the 16th and won the hole with a 30-foot birdie. And just like that, he was 1 down with two holes to play.

"I just made a swing as hard as I could," Rahm said. "And somehow the ball went under the first tee, rose just over the next one ... and went through to 100 yards. I don't know what happened. I think either Seve, God, someone right there or both of them just made a gap in the trees and made my ball go through there."

Indeed, it was the kind of magic Spanish great Seve Ballesteros for so long produced.

Rahm's comeback, however, fell short. Playing the 356-yard 18th hole for the first time in competition all week, and needing a birdie to send this heavyweight bout to overtime, Rahm smashed driver over the back of the green. But his chip down the slope checked up and stayed short of the ridge, leaving him a downhill putt that broke so sharply that he aimed nearly at a 90-degree angle away from the hole. He did well to make par.

Johnson came up just short of the green, chipped close and rolled in it to complete another big week.

"That was a tough day, a long day," Johnson said. "I'm proud of the way I played, the way I hung in there."

Rahm, who dispatched of Bill Haas in the semifinals, 3 and 2, wanted to face the hottest player in golf in the championship. And for the longest time, it looked as though the 22-year-old Spaniard regretted it.

Rahm gave away three straight holes by missing par putts from 6 feet and 8 feet, and missing a birdie putt from 4 feet. Johnson stretched his lead to 5 up with yet another bogey by Rahm, and it looked as though this match might be over early.

Rahm, who already is No. 14 in the world in just his 15th tournament as a pro, began chipping away. Johnson three-putted the 10th hole for the third straight match, regained momentum with a two-putt birdie on the 12th hole — Rahm hit his tee shot downhill and downwind at 438 yards, Johnson at 424 yards — and then the Spaniard began his remarkable rally.

There is just no beating Johnson at the moment. He won at Riviera by five shots. He held on for a one-shot victory in Mexico.

Johnson said in Mexico that his name — but not his exclusively — is one that nobody wants to see on the leaderboard. When asked if he is intimidating, he always says that's for other players to determine.

"If I'm playing my best," he said, "yeah, I'll play against anybody, anytime."

The Masters is in two weeks.

DIVOTS: Haas won the consolation match against Tanihara, 3 and 2, in which Tanihara made a hole-in-one on the seventh hole. ... Johnson is the first player since Rory McIlroy in 2014 to win three straight tournaments. One more and it would be the longest since Tiger Woods won six in a row worldwide in 2007-08. ... Luke Donald in 2011 is the only other player to never trail in the Match Play. That was single-elimination with six matches. Johnson played a round-robin qualifier and had to win seven matches.

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