February 20, 2017
Dustin Johnson's raw talent and a trophy case that keeps growing allowed him to believe he was the best player in golf.
Now he can say it.
Even if he doesn't understand the math involved with being No. 1.
Johnson extended a remarkable run, which began with his first major at the U.S. Open last summer, with a five-shot victory in the Genesis Open that was never in doubt Sunday. That elevated the 32-year-old American to No. 1 in the world for the first time.
Johnson doesn't spend a lot of time crunching numbers, especially the computations for the world ranking. But he said he would look at it first thing in the morning.
''I don't really understand it,'' he said. ''But I can read 1-2-3. I guess that's all that matters.''
In a 36-hole Sunday brought on by weather delays at Riviera, all it took was five holes to put Johnson in charge. He finished the third round in the morning with three straight birdies for a 7-under 64 to build a five-shot lead. He started the final round with two straight birdies and eventually stretched his lead to nine shots.
He went 49 straight holes without a bogey.
Johnson didn't know he was in range of the 72-hole scoring record at Riviera that dates to 1985, the longest standing on the PGA Tour schedule. He wasn't thinking about reaching No. 1 in the world. All he cared about was winning at Riviera, one of his favorite courses where he had four chances to win in the last five years.
''Winning the golf tournament ... that's what I was here to do,'' he said.
Johnson, who made three meaningless bogeys over the last 10 holes for an even-par 71, became the 20th player to reach No. 1 since the world ranking began in 1986. He ended Jason Day's 47-week stay at the top.
''He deserves it because he's been playing great golf,'' Day said.
Johnson won for the fourth time against some of golf's strongest fields in the last eight months - the U.S. Open at Oakmont, a World Golf Championship at Firestone, a FedEx Cup playoff event at Crooked Stick and the best field so far this year at Riviera. He has finished no worse than third in eight of his last 16 tournaments.
''No surprise to us players, and I don't think too much surprise to many others,'' Jordan Spieth said.
And it's not a surprise to Johnson.
Asked if he ever looked at himself as the best in the world even without the No. 1 ranking, Johnson smiled and said, ''All the time.''
''I mean, I think I'm a good player,'' he said. ''Everybody has their own opinion. I believe in myself. I think I'm a great player. The best in the world? I mean, until now I probably wouldn't have said I was the best in the world. But now I can say it.''
He heard it, too, as the gallery on the hill surrounding the 18th green began chanting, ''No. 1.''
Johnson finished at 17-under 267. Lanny Wadkins won at Riviera in 1985 at 20-under 264. Johnson said he didn't know what the record was, and once he made the turn with a seven-shot lead, he started playing away from trouble and at the middle of the greens.
''I didn't finish the last 10 holes the way I'd like to, but I had a pretty good lead. I was on cruise control,'' Johnson said.
Told the record score, he said, ''Next year.''
Thomas Pieters of Belgium and Scott Brown tied in the other tournament. No one had a chance to win as soon as Johnson began the final round with two straight birdies, but Pieters closed with a 63 and Brown shot a 68 to share second place at 12-under 272.
That's a big step for Pieters to earn a PGA Tour card, and it assured him a spot in the next two World Golf Championships. Cameron Tringale, who played the final 36 holes with Johnson, also was at 12 under until a double bogey on the final hole dropped him to a tie for eighth.
PGA Tour rookie Wesley Bryan shot a 63 in the third round Sunday morning and got within two shots of Johnson, but only until Johnson finished off the third round with his stretch of birdies. Bryan shot 72 in the afternoon and tied for fourth.
Bryan went to the same high school as Johnson - Dutch Fork in South Carolina - though he played most of his golf with Johnson's younger brother, Austin. He has seen enough of Johnson to realize this was inevitable.
''Honestly, I'm surprised it took so long for him to get to No. 1 in the world,'' Bryan said. He's got all the talent that you could ever want in a golfer.''
Pat Perez saw it all day. He also was in the final group for the last 36 holes, and on the ninth tee, Perez stood to the side as Johnson's tee shot was headed for a bunker. Johnson dipped his knees and urged it to cut, as if that mattered - it cleared the sand by some 20 yards.
Perez shook his head, smiled. Later in the final round, Perez was standing behind the 10th green when he said, ''The guys hits it 40 yards by me, hits his short irons great and makes 30-foot putts. What do you?''
February 19, 2017
Dustin Johnson left the Genesis Open in the twilight Saturday realizing he could be as little 24 hours away from reaching No. 1 in the world.
He wasn't the least bit concerned, mainly because he still had 36 holes ahead of him.
And all that really mattered to Johnson was winning at Riviera, the course he loves that has done nothing but tease him over the last five years.
Johnson had it really easy on a sloppy Saturday of light rain and a muddied course. He only had to play 18 holes of the second round, making three birdies over his last four holes for another 5-under 66 that gave him a one-shot lead at the halfway point of the rain-plagued tournament.
''I want to win this tournament,'' Johnson said. ''Whether I get to No. 1 or not doesn't affect me at all.''
The tournament lost an hour to fog Thursday, then seven hours when heavy rain and wind arrived in southern California on Friday, and two more hours Saturday morning to get the course cleaned up for play.
Jordan Spieth hit his first shot at 9 a.m. and his last shot at 5:40 p.m. That's a total of 10 shots for the day - two pars to close out his second round at 68, and two shots on the par-5 opening hole to start the third round.
Johnson was at 10-under 132 and had a one-shot lead over Pat Perez, who birdied his last two holes for a 66, and Cameron Tringale, whose wedge from 82 yards flew straight into the cup on No. 18 for a birdie and a 64.
Jhonattan Vegas finished his second round well before lunch with four pars for a 68. He was in the group at 7-under 135 along with Patrick Rodgers (67) and PGA Tour rookie J.T. Poston (69).
Sam Saunders, who opened with a 7-under 64 on Thursday and didn't play at all on Friday, stumbled to a 77. He was right on the cut line and was in danger of becoming the first player in four years to go from leading the first round to missing the cut until a long birdie on the 17th. Saunders was nine shots behind.
The PGA Tour got a big break when 71 players made the cut, making it possible to complete 72 holes by Sunday. The third round began Saturday afternoon, though the last two groups did not tee off because of darkness and will face 36 holes on the final day. The weather had cooperated enough that players no longer could lift, clean and place their golf balls in the short grass.
Johnson was in control of his game and the focus going into a marathon Sunday. Play was set to resume at 6:50 a.m.
He said earlier this year that Riviera was the one tournament he wanted to win outside the majors because of his love for the course and how much he loves it, even though it has given him nothing but heartache. He has had a chance to win four times in the last five years.
Now, a victory might be enough to move him to No. 1 in the world. Johnson would have to win the Genesis Open and have world No. 1 Jason Day finish out of the top three to go to No. 1 for the first time.
''I don't really worry about that,'' Johnson said. ''I want to put myself in position to win this golf tournament. That's really all I care about is what it takes to get it done here. The rest of the stuff, the points and the world golf rankings, yeah, I would like to get there but I'm not worried about it.''
Day had another 70 and was eight shots behind and tied for 40th.
Spieth, coming off a victory at Pebble Beach, managed his 19th consecutive round under par on the PGA Tour with a 68 even though he felt as though he hit it short and crooked most of the week. He was at 5 under and in a tie for 11th.
Perez was coming off a bogey on the par-5 ninth when he drove left of the 10th green and hit what he thought was as good a shot as he could that ran onto the green toward the pin. It kept rolling into a bunker, though he hit a nifty shot from the sand to 3 feet for par.
''Another birdie,'' he said as he walked off the green, paying homage to a 313-yard hole that bedevils him.
He saved his best work for the end of the round, chipping in from birdie from deep rough on the 17th and stuffing his approach into 8 feet for birdie on the 18th. Perez already has made a remarkable return from shoulder surgery, winning in his third tournament back in Mexico. Now he's headed back to Mexico in two weeks for a World Golf Championship, and a big Sunday could set him up for another WGC at the Dell Match Play.
Perez said his shoulder pain started to return in Phoenix, but he has shortened his swing and expects no trouble over as many as 36 holes Sunday.
Tringale ran off three straight birdies on the front nine and didn't drop a shot, saving his best for his final shot. After driving right into the eucalyptus trees on 18 and coming up short, he holed out for a 3 to get into the final group.
''Heard it hit the flag and then when people started going crazy, figured it had gone it,'' he said. ''It was a fun way to end.''
Now, the tournament feels as though it's just getting started.
February 18, 2017
Wind, rain and the snap of a large tree limb were enough to stop play Friday in the second round of the Genesis Open.
Sam Saunders remained atop the leaderboard without ever hitting a shot Friday at Riviera.
Jhonattan Vegas joined him at 7-under par and was all too happy to wait until Saturday morning - maybe - to complete his second round. The wind made it difficult to pick the right club. The rain made it difficult to gauge the speed on the greens.
But it was the crack of a eucalyptus tree that made PGA Tour officials sound the horn to get players - and spectators - off the course.
''We could have played a little bit more, but why? It's going to get nothing but worse,'' said Mark Russell, the PGA Tour's vice president of competition. ''We wanted to get them out of there when the trees started snapping.''
No one was hurt, although Russell said he heard some spectators had to scramble to safety when the eucalyptus limb fell some 30 yards behind the third green.
It was tough on a few players, too, at least between the ears.
Hideki Matsuyama, who had a mathematical chance to reach No. 1 in the world this week with a victory, returned Friday morning to complete the first round and made three straight birdies for a 68. He likely will have to finish with three straight birdies Saturday just to make the cut. Matsuyama was 6 over through 15 holes on his second round, and 3 over for the tournament.
Defending champion Bubba Watson hasn't had much go his way this week, even when they do. He couldn't decide on a club at No. 5 and came up well short of the green, only to chip in for a birdie. Standing on the tee at the par-3 sixth, with a bunker in the middle of the green and the pin left and to the back, Watson jokingly lamented, ''The one time I don't want to hit first.''
He still had two holes to play and was 8 over, virtually assured of missing the cut.
Cameron Percy of Australia was among 24 players who finished his second round. He shot a 71 and was at 5-under 137. Zac Blair and Martin Laird each shot 68 and were finished at 4-under 138.
Graeme McDowell birdied three of his last eight holes for a 70 and was at 3 under, along with Daniel Summerhays (73) and Keegan Bradley (70).
Very much in the mix was Jordan Spieth, playing in the same group as Watson. He was the last to hit on No. 6 and had no idea what was going on when he hit his shot .
''Oh, don't go that way,'' Spieth said as the wind failed to bring it back to the right toward the green.
''No way. No way,'' he said when his shot appeared to go well beyond the bunker to the left of the putting surface.
And then he heard a smattering of cheers.
The shot landed on a hill beyond the green, rode the slope back down to about 10 feet and he wound up with a birdie. He was at 5 under with two holes to play, and depending what the weather has in store, that might not be a bad place to be.
Spieth, coming off a victory at Pebble Beach last week, was headed for his 19th consecutive round under par on the PGA Tour.
''We knew it would be interesting today, and last week actually was great prep for it because we played through conditions like this that first round,'' Spieth said. ''Things aren't going to always go your way on a day like today. Actually, rarely they're going to go your way. ... Tough break on this wave, but that happens, too. Go out tomorrow and play a strong last couple of holes and see if we can take advantage this weekend.''
Still to be determined was whether the rain - and any debris - would allow the second round to resume at 7 a.m. Saturday. Ideally, the second round would end in the mid-afternoon, making it still possible for 72 holes by Sunday.
Among those who didn't play on Friday was Dustin Johnson, who opened with a 66. He needs a victory to have a chance to reach No. 1, depending on how Jason Day fares. The world's No. 1 player was at 2 under for the tournament with three holes to play.
Day already had one highlight. He began his second round on No. 10, and his drive was so far to the right that it was in front of the temporary green, leaving him no shot except to bounce it up the narrow strip of turf separating two bunkers. He pulled it off perfectly, the ball stopped 8 feet away and Day walked off with a birdie.
February 17, 2017
This is the starring role Sam Saunders prefers.
Saunders, the grandson of Arnold Palmer who so famously kept his composure during a heartfelt eulogy of The King, rolled in birdie putts and kept a clean card at Riviera on Thursday for a 7-under 64 and an early two-shot lead in the Genesis Open.
Saunders called it his best round on the PGA Tour, and it was merely a coincidence that it came on the 50-year anniversary of Palmer defending his title at the Los Angeles Open, when it was played at Rancho Municipal.
''He just always talked about how much he loved coming out there and playing,'' Saunders said. ''I think his celebrity matched pretty well with the celebrity atmosphere that you have here, so he was obviously comfortable with that.''
Saunders had a two-shot lead over Dustin Johnson, who has a chance to go to No. 1 if he were to win this week. Daniel Summerhays, Cameron Percy, J.T. Poston and Brett Stegmaier joined Johnson at 66, while Phil Mickelson was among those at 67.
Because of a fog delay in the morning, darkness kept 48 players from finishing the first round. They were to return 7 a.m. Friday, though the bigger question was whether a monster storm of rain and wind would allow for that.
Jordan Spieth was at 2 under and facing a 50-foot birdie putt on the 17th. Jason Day was at even par through 16 holes, while Hideki Matsuyama was 1 under through 16 holes.
Saunders has kept a busy schedule over the last four months in the aftermath of Palmer's death. He is taking on a bigger role at the Arnold Palmer Invitational next month, along with being a husband and the father of two sons, and getting his golf game in shape.
''It's been busy, but busy in a good way,'' he said.
Saunders was rock solid Oct. 3 when he stood before thousands at St. Vincent College, and so many more watching the live telecast of Palmer's memorial service. Speaking without notes, Saunders beautifully captured the spirit of Palmer as a golfer and as a grandfather, saying that day, ''There wasn't a big difference between the man you saw on TV and the man we knew at home.''
He has always been known as Palmer's grandson, and Saunders has learned to embrace it. He no longer worries about trying to make a name for himself.
''I don't need to compete against my grandfather's career. Nobody can,'' he said. ''I don't care how many golf tournaments you win, nobody's going to compete in the terms of doing what he did for the game. And for me to try to promote my own brand or name would be foolish because I have such a great opportunity to promote and to continue what he has already done. That's what I'm going to do and not make it about myself.''
The morning was perfect for scoring once the fog lifted, and Saunders rarely had a round with so little stress. He only came close to making bogey twice, saving par with an 8-foot putt on the par-3 fourth hole and a 6-foot putt on the par-3 14th.
Saunders, with only conditional status this year, is playing on the first of what figures to be several sponsor exemptions. He missed the cut in La Quinta and Pebble Beach and knew with the forecast so dire that it would be key to getting off to a good start.
Johnson has come close to winning Riviera, one of his favorite courses, four of the last five years and he looked as though he might be tough to beat this week when he holed a 10-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole as he made the turn, going out in 32.
He failed to birdie the par-5 first hole when his approach was on the fringe on the wrong side of the green, forcing him to hit a flop shot to the other side. Worse yet, he was stung on the neck by a bee, and stood on the next tee rolling a cold water bottle against his neck as his brother and caddie, Austin, removed the stinger.
Johnson hit two ordinary shots, but followed with a pair of 25-foot birdie putts. A bogey on the fourth hole dropped him to 5 under, and he finished with pars.
Mickelson is playing his fifth straight event, though the 46-year-old sure didn't seem bothered by that. He went eagle-birdie-birdie around the turn to briefly take the lead and settled for a 67.
Also at 68 was Billy Hurley III, surprised by a strong performance after writing a moving letter in The Players Tribune to his late father, who committed suicide. Others at 68 included Branden Grace, playing Riviera for the first time, and Padraig Harrington, who fears a shoulder injury might require surgery.
|T15||USA||Charles Howell III||-8||-||70||67||70||69||276|
|T17||USA||J. J. Henry||-7||-||69||69||70||69||277|
|T17||USA||J. T. Poston||-7||-||66||69||-||69||204|
|T17||-||K. J. Choi||-7||-||-||70||69||68||207|
|T28||USA||Billy Hurley III||-5||-||67||72||71||69||279|
|T34||USA||J. B. Holmes||-4||-||71||69||68||72||280|
|71||RSA||Tyrone van Aswegen||8||-||-||68||-||75||143|
|CUT||USA||Harold Varner III||2||-||73||71||-||-||144|
|CUT||USA||Rich Berberian Jr||4||-||-||69||-||-||69|