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January 8 2013

7:47 PM

DJ closing on his limitless potential

By Ann Miller for PGATOUR.COM

KAPALUA, Maui — Dustin Johnson went from wire-to-windy-wire at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions on Tuesday, winning the PGA TOUR’s first event of 2013 by four shots over defending champ Steve Stricker.

Johnson closed with a 5-under 68 at the Kapalua Plantation Course, which was blown into submission the first three days. Gusts of more than 50 mph forced officials to start the tournament Monday with 36 holes and end it Tuesday with 18 more.

It was an ideal situation for Johnson, who has now won the TOUR’s last three 54-hole tournaments.

“I’ve got a long way to go,” grinned Johnson, 28, “but I will be ready for the Champions Tour.”

His three-round total of 16-under 203 was four shots better than Stricker, who closed with a 69. Johnson has now won TOUR events in six straight years, since coming out of college.

Tiger Woods is the only other golfer who can make that claim. And only Phil Mickelson, who has won events the last nine years, has a longer annual streak. That is fast company.

“He’s very athletic and he’s just going to continue to get better,” Stricker said. “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. He hit a couple wayward drives and opened the door for me a little bit, and then he stepped up there with a driver again, and I’m like, OK. But then he piped it and chips it in.”

That came on the 14th hole. Stricker was five back after seven, but cut his gap to two at the turn with a couple birdies and Johnson’s bogey on the ninth, where he drove into a hazard.

Johnson padded his advantage with a birdie on the 12th, blasting his drive more than 400 yards and sinking a 12-foot birdie putt. He made just two putts that were longer all week, aside from a 25-footer from the fringe Tuesday that counted as a chip-in.

His next chip-in was the most decisive shot of the long week.

Johnson hit into another hazard on the 13th, found his ball but hit it just four feet, leading to double-bogey. Stricker missed a 25-foot birdie putt that could have tied it there, but Johnson’s advantage was down to one with five holes left.

He grabbed his driver again on the next hole, blasted the ball 267 yards through the wind about 50 feet short of the hole, and nearly knocked over the weather-whipped pin for eagle.

“The chip on 14 was definitely the biggest shot,” Johnson said. “Maybe the drive; the drive set it up all. I hit a great drive right at the flag, which came up just short, and I had a really easy pitch. Fortunate to hit a great pitch and it went right in the middle.”

Johnson won $1.14 million and 500 FedExCup points to take the early-season lead. Kyle Stanley finished last in the 30-man field and collected $61,000.

They now head to the Sony Open in Hawaii, which tees off Thursday. Johnson has top-20 finishes at Waialae Country Club in both previous starts.

How bright is his future?

“I don’t really look ahead that far,” Johnson said. “I kind of go week-to-week. I’m looking at next week where I want to go in and play three good rounds and then contend on Sunday for another victory. That’s my goal.”
Then he fired a shot heard ‘round the PGA TOUR.

“If I keep playing golf like I’m playing right now, then, you know,” Johnson said, “obviously there is no limit.”

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