DJ spins a win
KAPALUA – Things were starting to fall apart for Dustin Johnson, then quickly came together.
And he didn’t turn the tide with his well-known power. Instead, he relied on finesse.
Johnson pitched in from 52 yards for eagle on the 14th hole of the final round en route to a 5-under-par 68 and four-stroke victory on Tuesday in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at the Kapalua Plantation Course.
“I’ve had a few leads in PGA Tour events and haven’t come through and gotten the victory so it means a lot today, especially for my confidence,” said Johnson, who finished the event, reduced to 54 holes after starting three days late because of rain and strong winds, at 16-under 203.
Of his eagle, Johnson said: “Fortunately, I hit a great pitch and it went right in the middle.”
Johnson, 28, is the first player to win a tour event in each of his first six seasons since Tiger Woods had victories in each of his first 14 years, from 1996 to 2009.
“He just tied Tiger today, didn’t he? said runner-up Steve Stricker, who shot a final-round 69. “So that’s pretty impressive.”
Johnson, who earned $1.14 million and a Hyundai Equus sedan, has won the last three PGA Tour events cut to 54 holes, adding to his titles at The Barclays in 2011 and the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in 2009. He has seven wins overall.
Brandt Snedeker (69) made an early charge Tuesday and finished third at 209.
The season opener was the first tour event to finish on a Tuesday since 2006. The 30 players in the field, limited to winners from 2012, completed 36 holes Monday. Johnson held the lead then, as well.
Johnson’s chip-in at the 14th hole on Tuesday came after wayward drives at Nos. 9 and 13 – the second of which led to a double bogey – let a five-stroke lead shrink to one. For the tournament, Johnson was second in driving distance, but last in fairways hit.
“It definitely got close out there today,” he said. “Sometimes I hit a couple bad drives, but I was always able to bounce back and do what I needed to do to stay out front.”
Johnson’s tee shot on the 521-yard par-5 ninth traveled right, into waist-high shrubbery. He searched for the ball, took a provisional drive and wound up with bogey, which dropped him to 13 under.
Stricker, at 45 the oldest player in the field, was limping around the course because of a left leg injury, but birdied Nos. 8 and 9 to get to 11 under.
Johnson converted a 12-foot birdie putt on No. 12 to take a three-stroke lead, but on the next hole sent his tee shot left, into weeds and trees. Johnson and Stricker, bad leg and all, searched for the ball for a few minutes before Johnson found it.
“I felt like I should get in there and try to help,” said Stricker, the defending champion, who trailed Johnson by three strokes entering the final round. “You always appreciate helping if your ball is lost or whoever is helping.”
Johnson had an uphill lie and plant growth to contend with, and chunked a shot in an attempt to pitch into the fairway, moving the ball just four feet.
“Once I actually found it, I had a terrible lie,” Johnson said. “I was just trying to get it out in the rough and where I could hit it at the green. But I didn’t swing hard enough and it didn’t come out.”
Johnson successfully pitched to the fairway on his next shot, but the trouble dropped him to 12 under.
Stricker, who played bogey-free in the final round, parred the 13th.
On the 305-yard, par-4 14th, Johnson drove just short of the green, and the chip-in followed.
“The chip on 14 definitely was the biggest shot,” Johnson said. “Maybe the drive. The drive set it all up. I hit a great drive right at the flag and it came up just short and I had a real easy pitch.”
Johnson and Stricker both birdied the 15th. Johnson sank a seven-foot birdie on No. 18.
“He’s just going to continue to get better,” Stricker said of Johnson. “That’s going to be the fun part watching, is what he’s going to do from here on out because he looks unflappable out there.”
Snedeker, the 2012 FedEx Cup champion, made a run at the lead on the front nine. He parred the first two holes, then went birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie to get to 11 under and within a shot of Johnson, but followed with three consecutive bogeys.
“You get off to that kind of a start, (then) get right back in the middle of the tournament. Man, it was close, but wasn’t quite there,” he said.
* Kyle Sakamoto is at email@example.com