March 6, 2017
The only elevation that mattered at the Mexico Championship is how much higher Dustin Johnson can go.
In his first start since a five-shot victory at Riviera that made him No. 1 in the world, Johnson captured his fourth World Golf Championships title Sunday by blowing by some of golf's biggest names and then delivering his best shot at the end to secure a one-shot victory over Tommy Fleetwood of England.
He won for the fifth time in his last 15 starts on the PGA Tour, including a major and two World Golf Championships.
And at nearly 7,800 feet above sea level at Chapultepec Golf Club, Johnson kept soaring.
He closed with a 3-under 68, and finished this one off with one of the most difficult shots in golf. Clinging to a one-shot lead, his feet on the edge of the bunker and ball below his feet, Johnson hit a three-quarter shot from 127 yards with his 54-degree wedge to the middle of the 18th green for a two-putt par.
He called it a ''dink.'' He also could have called it clutch.
''Probably the best shot I hit all week, especially under the circumstances, was that second shot on 18,'' he said. ''A fantastic shot.''
It wrapped up a spectacular week in Mexico City, which hosted this World Golf Championship after it had been at Trump Doral the last seven years. Johnson walked through the roped corridors with his arms extended to slap hands and bump fists with an energetic crowd, especially kids who called out, ''Dee-Jay!''
Johnson finished at 14-under 270.
Justin Thomas had a one-shot lead over Johnson, with Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson another shot behind. It was an All-Star cast that Johnson turned into a one-man show with a 31 on the front nine to build a four-shot lead.
And just like that, it was gone.
''Around here, anything can happen,'' Johnson said.
Thomas fell back with a double bogey in the water on the par-3 seventh. Neither McIlroy nor Mickelson got anything going. The challenge came from Jon Rahm, the dynamic rookie from Spain, who made an eagle and two birdies in a five-hole stretch on the back nine. That's right when Johnson had his only real struggles, three-putting from 25 feet for bogey on No. 12 and taking bogey from a bunker on No. 13.
And then he was one shot behind, but only as long as it took him to get up-and-down from a bunker on the par-5 15th for birdie to tie for the lead. Johnson was flawless with pars. Rahm, who had gone 59 holes without a three-putt, took two straight for bogeys that took him out of the game.
''Sometimes you're going to make some bogeys from those greens and unfortunately for me, it happened at the end,'' Rahm said.
Johnson became the fifth player to win in his first tournament as No. 1 in the world. His fourth World Golf Championship title is second on the career list behind Tiger Woods, who won 18 times since the series began in 1999.
It was quite the consolation prize for the 26-year-old Fleetwood.
His 40-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a 66 put him alone in second and secured a spot in the Masters for the first time. He moves to No. 35 in the world and is certain to stay in the top 50 over the next three weeks before the cutoff to get an invitation to Augusta National.
Rahm's two late bogeys gave him a 68 and a tie for third with Ross Fisher, who closed with three straight birdies for a 65. That assures Fisher a place in the next WGC event in three week at the Dell Match Play.
The great theater among the stars in Mexico City never really materialized.
Thomas bounced back from a 38 on the front nine and was still in range until closing with three pars for a 72 to tie for fifth with Thomas Pieters. McIlroy and Mickelson each shot 71 and tied for seventh. McIlroy had a two-shot lead going into the weekend and shot 70-71.
''These two rounds were the sort of rounds I would have expected the first two days, not the last two,'' said McIlroy, playing for the first time in seven weeks while recovering from a rib injury.
Johnson was steady right to the end to capture his 14th career victory on the PGA Tour, and his second straight.
The greens of Chapultepec gave him fits all week. Johnson missed eight putts from inside 5 feet. In the opening round, he missed six putts from the 6-foot range or closer. His power and his clean striking allowed him to overcome that.
The most recent player to win in his debut at No. 1 was Adam Scott at the Colonial in 2014.
''It's a tough spot to be in,'' Johnson said. ''There's a lot of pressure on you. I came out and played really well.''
Johnson now takes the next two weeks off before playing the Dell Match Play and the Shell Houston Open ahead of the Masters, where Las Vegas already has installed him as the favorite.
March 5, 2017
Justin Thomas hit a 6-iron that one-hopped into the bottom of the cup. Dustin Johnson hit a wedge that never came down from a tree. In one of the 10 fairways that Phil Mickelson missed, a spectator apparently ran off with his golf ball.
Even better than the wild action Saturday in the Mexico Championship was the promise of more to come.
Thomas, going for his fourth PGA Tour victory of the season, rode a hole-in-one to a 5-under 66 to take a one-shot lead over Dustin Johnson at Chapultepec Golf Club. Right behind were Mickelson and Rory McIlroy, who saw his momentum stall when his flip wedge on No. 12 struck the pin and spun back.
Such a world-class leaderboard should have been enough to delight the crowd at Chapultepec Golf Club.
It was how they got there that made it so entertaining.
Thomas was lingering around the leaders, trying to piece together a swing, when he was caught between clubs from 239 yards away on the par-3 13th. He hit 6-iron and sent the crowd into delirium when it bounced once and disappeared into the cup.
''It looked perfect,'' he said. ''I think I said, 'Go in.' You might as well say it,'' Thomas said while watching the shot on a TV monitor. ''I haven't hit too many shots exactly how I wanted. I liked this result.''
Johnson was tied for the lead when his second shot on the 16th got stuck in a tree. He had no choice but to walk back to the original spot and hit his fourth shot that settled 15 feet from the cup. Just his luck, the ball fell out of the tree as he was walking to the green.
''It happens,'' Johnson shrugged after a 66. ''I did make a nice putt for bogey, though, so I was definitely happy about that.''
Johnson is happy when he sees any putt fall into the cup. He is swing as beautifully as he did at Riviera two weeks ago when he won by five shots, but missing seven out of 15 putts from inside 7 feet has made him wonder if the greens are conspiring against him.
''If it's not the greens - someone is playing goalie up by the hole - the trees are catching my ball,'' Johnson said.
No one was more wild than Mickelson, who used to thrive on such scrambling skills. This time, he was disappointed. Mickelson thought he had those big misses off the tee out of his system, but they returned in a big way on Saturday. He missed seven out of eight fairways in one stretch, and through 12 holes, he had more drops than he had birdies. He still managed a par when the spectator made off with his golf ball. He managed par after taking a drop from a sprinkler into bushes.
He still managed a 68, and was just two shots behind.
''I've shot numbers like this hitting shots like that and salvaging strokes, but I've been playing better than that,'' Mickelson said, clearly disappointed. ''That looks like the way I've hit it the last three years - all over the place and saving shot. I haven't been doing that this year. I wanted to come out here and strike the ball the way I've been striking it, and then to hit it the way I did was disappointing.''
McIlroy was playing in the final group with Mickelson for the first time on a weekend, and his round of 70 was comparatively boring. If anything, he felt he lost a little rhythm waiting on Mickelson to get rulings on three consecutive holes to start the back nine.
''Phil rode his luck out there,'' McIlroy said. ''But geez, if I was hitting it off the tee like he did today, there's no way I would shoot 68. That's the great thing about Phil. ... I would be a mess if I was hitting it the way he was today. I guess that's the difference between us. I like to see it going down the fairway and playing nice that way, where he goes like this and shoots two better than me. So there you go.''
At nearly 7,800 feet of elevation, the final round figures to be up in the thin air. That might even include Jordan Spieth, who set the course record with an 8-under 63 and was among a dozen players within five shots of the lead.
Lee Westwood, who has played in more World Golf Championships than anyone since they began in 1999, shot 31 on the back nine for a 66 and was three behind, along with Spanish rookie Jon Rahm, who had a 67.
Johnson is trying to become the fifth player to win in his debut at No. in the world, and he still likes his position. He will be in the final group with Thomas and McIlroy.
''I have a lot of great players chasing me,'' Thomas said. ''I just have to go out and make a bunch of birdies.''
March 4, 2017
Sore ribs or sore stomach, it doesn't seem to matter to Rory McIlroy. After being gone for seven weeks, he took a two-shot lead into the weekend at the Mexico Championship with a chance to return to No. 1 in the world.
McIlroy holed out from 156 yards for eagle on the 14th hole, part of a three-hole stretch Friday when he seized control at Chapultepec Golf Club. McIlroy missed putts inside 6 feet on his last three holes - one for par, two for birdie - and still shot a 6-under 65.
''Look, I'm in a great position,'' McIlroy said. ''But I felt like I could have been a few more ahead.''
He got 14 hours of sleep to help overcome a stomach virus and said he was feeling a little better.
His game looked better than ever.
McIlroy was at 9-under 133, two shots ahead of Phil Mickelson (68), Justin Thomas (66) and Ross Fisher (68).
Mickelson will in the final group on the weekend for the first time since his runner-up finish to Henrik Stenson at Royal Troon in the British Open. And he got there without his longtime caddie, Jim ''Bones'' Mackay, who fell ill on fourth hole of the second round and turned the bag over to Mickelson's younger brother, Tim.
Thomas, who won the opening two events of the year in Hawaii, had seven birdies and three bogeys over his last 13 holes.
McIlroy is playing for the first time since losing a playoff Jan. 15 in South Africa. He was diagnosed with a hairline fracture of his rib the next day and missed four tournaments on his schedule to make sure it healed properly. There seems to be little debate about that.
He showed that blend of power and balance in the thin air of Mexico City and struck his irons close for so much of the day. His longest birdie putt was 12 feet, and McIlroy had reason to lament the ones that got away. He missed four putts from 6 feet or closer.
''I just felt like I had a bit more energy. I had a bit more pep in my step,'' McIlroy said. ''I wasn't just trying to get through the round today, I was trying to build on the score that I had and it was nice to feel like that again.''
He wasn't alone in missing short putts.
Dustin Johnson, in his debut at No. 1, still watched a number of putts wiggle to the hole on the poa greens and a few more went in. He birdied three of his last four holes for a 66 and was among those just three shots behind and very much in the picture.
Johnson can keep the top ranking if he finishes in the top four.
''I feel like I'm hitting good putts, they're just very difficult,'' Johnson said. ''I feel like someone's playing goalie up by the hole. It's not going my way right now, but hopefully I can roll in a few more putts this weekend. I feel like I'm hitting it great.''
The only bad hole for McIlroy was at No. 12 where he put his wedge into a bunker, barely got it out of the sand onto the collar and two-putted from 20 feet for bogey. And then he found another gear.
He hit his tee shot to 12 feet on the par-3 13th. From 156 yards out to a soft green, he tried to take a little off a 9-iron and leaned when he saw it going a little too far left of the flag. It bounced out of the rough and rolled into the cup for an eagle. He came up just short of the green on the par-5 15th, setting up a simple up-and-down for another birdie to seize control.
Just like that, he was three shots ahead and was in position to make it a lot more until missing the three putts coming in.
''I would have taken a 65 starting today and I definitely would have taken a two-shot lead going into the weekend, so I'm in a great position,'' McIlroy said. ''I'm kicking myself because I missed a couple of short ones coming in, but overall I'm in a good spot and looking forward to being in contention over the weekend.''
His Ryder Cup partner, Andy Sullivan, matched his low round of the tournament and was in the group at 6-under that included Johnson and Daniel Berger (66).
Missing from the mix was Jordan Spieth, who put on a highlight show when he chipped in for eagle on the 15th, and then played a clever pitch some 30 feet away from the flag and let it roll down the hill and into the cup for a birdie.
That more than wiped out a double bogey on the par-5 11th, but momentum stalled in a big way. Spieth went long at No. 1 into the hedges and out-of-bounds, leading to a triple bogey. He shot a 72 and was 1-over 143 10 shots behind.
He had one thing in common with McIlroy. Spieth also spent more time in the bathroom than in bed the night before from a stomach virus that has been the lone blight on an otherwise strong debut for this World Golf Championship in Mexico City.
March 3, 2017
Rory McIlroy leaned over and rested his hand on the top of his driver. At the turn, waiting for the green to clear, he twirled half of a bagel in his finger and then ducked inside a tent to sit on a table. In his return to golf after seven weeks, he didn't look to be in the best of shape Thursday at the Mexico Championship.
Only it was his stomach, not his ribs.
As for his golf? That looked to be as good as ever.
McIlroy, playing for the first time since Jan. 15 because of a hairline rib fracture, was rarely out of position, blasted a 4-iron out of the rough from 256 yards to set up an eagle and wound up with a 3-under 68. He finished the opening round at Chapultepec Golf Club one shot out of a six-way tie for the lead.
Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood, two of the four players who were in the field for the first edition of this World Golf Championships event in 1999, each shot 67 and were joined at the top by PGA champion Jimmy Walker, Ross Fisher, Jon Rahm of Spain and Ryan Moore.
Westwood and Walker each made it to 6 under until two bogeys over their final few holes.
It was an impressive return for McIlroy, and equally impressive was the debut of Chapultepec, hosting this WGC event after it spent nine years at Trump Doral.
''I've waited long enough to play,'' McIlroy said. ''I wanted to get out here and be competitive and try to shoot a good score. I don't feel anywhere near as bad as I did in China last year when I had the same thing. So hopefully, it's just a day thing and it will pass.''
British Open champion Henrik Stenson wasn't so fortunate. He withdrew after 11 holes with a stomach virus.
The biggest surprise was Chapultepec, hosting the best players in the world at nearly 7,800 feet. Roberto Castro hit a tee shot 407 yards. Mickelson hit one 379 yards, his longest in recent years without hitting a cart path. Dustin Johnson, in his debut at No. 1 in the world, hit 3-wood on the 316-yard first hole that bounded over the green, into the hedges and out-of-bounds.
For all that length, no one could do better than 67. Only 27 players in the 77-man field broke par.
''Even though the golf course doesn't play long because of the altitude, it is challenging in many other respects with the precision of the irons, the small targets that the greens present and the speed and undulation of the greens,'' Mickelson said.
Westwood certainly didn't expect to make eight birdies, and he wasn't all that disappointed with his two bogeys at the end.
''It's a great golf course,'' Westwood said. ''You've got to be really patient. It's a pleasure to play a golf course where your caddie doesn't hand you the driver walking off the previous green. You've got to put in a bit of thought on this golf course.''
Westwood, Mickelson, Sergio Garcia (68) and Jim Furyk (77) were all at Valderrama in 1999 for what was then the American Express Championship. It was the one WGC originally designed to travel, and when the PGA Tour couldn't secure at sponsor at Trump Doral outside Miami, it moved to Mexico City.
The crowd was loud and energized, no cheer louder than when Justin Thomas holed a punch-and-run from 103 yards on No. 4.
That was about the time Walker reached 6 under with a birdie on the par-5 sixth hole. But he was a victim of the thin air on the par-3 seventh when his 7-iron on the 235-yard seventh hole bounced hard and went all the way to the back of the green, leading to a three-putt bogey. He went long again on No. 8, leaving him a chip that didn't even reach the green. If it had, it might have run some 70 feet back into the fairway because of the slope.
''Good to post a 4 under, especially on a course ... no one has seen it,'' Walker said.
No one was more flummoxed than Johnson, who played as well as anyone and got nothing out of it on the poa greens. He won on the poa at Riviera two weeks ago by five shots. This time, he didn't get the right bounces and turns. Johnson missed six putts from 6 feet or closer and still managed a 70.
''That's how it goes,'' he said. ''The greens are a little tricky. I felt like I hit the ball really well, though. I scored poorly. I missed five putts inside 4, 5 feet. That's the difference between playing a really good round and just playing an OK round.''
Jordan Spieth had an OK round. He had two early bogeys and had to rally to get back to 71.
|T12||USA||J. B. Holmes||-7||-||69||68||69||71||277|
|T38||ESP||Rafael Cabrera Bello||Par||-||72||69||71||72||284|