Dustin Johnson enters 2014 looking to drive to repeat victory at Hyundai TOCDustin Johnson has at least one victory in each of his first seven seasons on the PGA TOUR.December 29, 2013
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
With a swing speed of 125 mph and ball speed of 180 mph, Dustin Johnson hits it harder than most on the PGA TOUR. He also arrives at this week’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions in rarified air.
Johnson is the first player since Tiger Woods to win at least once in each of his first seven seasons straight out of college.
That included last year at Kapalua.
This time, Johnson arrives at the Plantation Course with a win already under his belt for the new 2013-14 campaign after a victory at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in November.
It was his first WGC title. It also came with a familiar face on the bag -- younger brother Austin.
Gone is Johnson’s former caddie Bobby Brown, who Austin takes over for full time. The younger Johnson played basketball at Charleston Southern before transferring to the College of Charleston -- the same school Dustin attended -- to finish his degree.
“Having my brother on the bag has been cool. I love it," Johnson said. "He's my brother. I like having him out here. And we do good."
In his first eight seasons on the PGA TOUR, Johnson hasn’t done too bad himself.
He has contended in major championships and played in Ryder Cups and The Presidents Cup.
The 29-year-old has also shown a proclivity to play well when the weather turns poor.
It’s not something that happens often in Maui, though it did last year when high winds forced a late start and an abbreviated finish.
The tournament actually started twice during the regularly scheduled first round Friday and later Sunday, but both times rules officials halted play due to unplayable conditions. All scores were subsequently voided.Johnson ranks sixth in the FedExCup.
Play officially began with 36 holes on Monday, which was originally scheduled to have been the final day, and ended the next day with Johnson winning a tournament shortened to 54 holes for the third time in his career.
The first time it happened was five years ago at Pebble Beach, where heavy rain and strong winds pounded the northern California coastline.
Johnson was leading Mike Weir by four strokes going into the final round and never had to hit another shot before being declared the winner.
The other time it happened was in 2011 at The Barclays, where Hurricane Irene forced the tournament to be cut short.
“I like tough conditions,” Johnson says. “It weeds out a lot of players.”
Consequently, players who hit it the way Johnson does, rise to the top. Last year in Kapalua, Johnson was last in the field in fairways hit but second in greens in regulation.
“When it’s windy, you have to focus more and it makes me concentrate harder,” Johnson said. “It makes the game more interesting.”
So does Johnson’s freakish ability, whether it’s riding the wind in Hawaii, or joining Woods among those who have had immediate success once they turned pro. Only Phil Mickelson’s mark of nine straight years with a win straight out of college stands in the way.
But Johnson is already on his way.
Two months ago in China, his 24-under-par 264 total broke the tournament record by three strokes. He beat Ian Poulter, the man who set that record a year earlier, by the same number.
The last player to win two straight years at Kapalua was Geoff Ogilvy, who did it in 2009-10. Stuart Appleby, an Aussie accustomed to windswept conditions, also won there in back-to-back years in 2005-06.
“I think the Plantation Course fits my game really good,” Johnson said of the 7,452-yard, par 73. “I can hit driver pretty much on every hole. It's fun. You make a lot of birdies.”
He’s played just one event, but Johnson already leads the TOUR in birdie average this season. Last year, he ranked 25th.
And should the weather turn foul again -- something that isn’t in the forecast this time -- Johnson won’t mind.
“It still turned out to be a great week,” he said of last year’s tournament. “The event was shortened a little bit, but for some reason I like those events.”