• adamzielonka

After hectic year in golf, Dustin Johnson leaves no doubt about world’s best

The world of golf held its collective breath as Bryson DeChambeau arrived in Augusta, Georgia. After lapping the field at the U.S. Open in September and teasing drives that carried 400 yards on the range, DeChambeau was the story of golf this fall. The Athletic’s Brendan Quinn put it perfectly when he wrote that the golf establishment didn’t want “Beefy Bryson” to bend Augusta National to his will — the sentiment instead would be “Hey, this man just destroyed a national monument.”

After all that, the Masters scoring record was broken, yet it wasn’t DeChambeau's doing. We were all looking the wrong way.

Dustin Johnson carded 65-70-65-68 (20-under) to win his first Masters, capping off a busy and unorthodox but satisfying year in golf.

Had DeChambeau won with the same score, the emerging storylines would have focused on the need to “Bryson-proof” the sport, possibly with some (false) accusations of doping thrown in for good measure. In reality, the narrative entering 2021 is much simpler: Johnson is elite, and the throne belongs to him until someone can knock him off.

The pivot point of the final round came on the downhill par-3 6th hole, following the inevitable Johnson missteps that led to consecutive bogeys on 4 and 5. His lead already shrank to one stroke over playing partner and Augusta newcomer Sungjae Im.

In that moment, Im sailed his tee shot over the green. Fellow Masters rookie Abraham Ancer, the third member of the playing group, went next and found the wrong side of the green, 46 feet from the hole. And Johnson stepped up and dropped his tee shot to just 7 feet.

Johnson birdied, his partners each bogeyed, and whatever remaining doubt there was melted for the rest of the way.

Augusta bats about .950 in separating the very good golfers from the exceptional. If you're new here, don’t figure you’ll have an easy go of it. Johnson’s track record of being 0-4 in majors after holding a 54-hole lead or co-lead no longer mattered, because he was not only more experienced than his challengers, but undoubtedly the best player in the world Sunday.

Really? The best? Yes, I’d argue so. That mantle can change swiftly, as golfers hit months-long slumps and others catch fire.

Look at the Official World Golf Ranking, an imperfect but very fair formula for making this determination. An OWGR record was set rather quietly in 2020: Five different players held the No. 1 ranking for at least a week, something that had never happened in a calendar year. Brooks Koepka entered 2020 at No. 1; Rory McIlroy swiped it away from him from February to mid-July; Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm went back and forth a bit during the summer, and Johnson finally took over before August was even over.

Notice that none of those names are Bryson DeChambeau’s. Nor Collin Morikawa, the surprise winner of the PGA Championship who sits at No. 5 and could easily claim No. 1 someday in the near future. All of this speaks to the parity at the top of men’s golf as 2020 winds down.

But it’s a parity that now clearly has one name above the rest. The year belonged to Johnson, who claimed victory at the Travelers Championship, The Northern Trust and the Tour Championship before winning the Masters. He won his first FedEx Cup and his second PGA Tour Player of the Year award. This man had COVID-19 just a month ago and still set the Masters scoring record despite losing valuable prep time.

It’s also worth remembering that it’s Johnson’s second major, putting him ahead of a pack of his peers still at one like Thomas, DeChambeau, Adam Scott, Webb Simpson, Patrick Reed and Justin Rose, though still behind McIlroy’s and Koepka’s four apiece.

Most professional golfers in the "very good" category can land one major win in their careers. Winning multiple, especially the one that comes with a green jacket, is a ticket to the Hall of Fame. In a parallel universe, Johnson might have destined to be part of the one-time winners club. But just as everyone was looking in another direction, he managed his biggest feat yet.

(Photo via Twitter, @DJohnsonPGA)

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