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Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Dustin Johnson -- a world beater?

By Farrell Evans
ESPN.com

After he won the PGA Tour's two previous weather-shortened 54-hole events (the 2009 AT&T Pebble Beach and the 2011 Barclays), it was fitting that Dustin Johnson would capture the windswept Hyundai Tournament of Champions on Tuesday at the par-73, 7,411-yard Plantation course at the Kapalua Resort on Maui, Hawaii.

Johnson's 54-hole total of 16 under par was good enough for a 4-shot win over Steve Stricker. In the final round, only the second day the players were able to tee it up after Friday, Saturday and Sunday were wiped out by the high winds, Johnson's 5-under-par 68 included six birdies, an eagle and a double-bogey.

The win, his seventh since he joined the PGA Tour in 2008 out of Coastal Carolina University, marked Johnson's sixth straight year on tour with a victory. Among current players, only Phil Mickelson has had a longer run at nine in a row.

Dustin Johnson
By virtue of his victory Tuesday at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Dustin Johnson earned a return trip to Maui for the 2014 edition of the event.

At 28, Johnson has his best years in front of him. As one of the longest hitters in the game, he can overpower most golf courses. He has long been considered a special talent.

In 2010, he nearly won both the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship. A more experienced Johnson probably would not have self-destructed in the final round at Pebble Beach with an 82 after starting the day with a 3-shot lead; or grounded his club in that sandy waste area off the 18th fairway at Whistling Straits, an error that cost him a spot in the PGA playoff; or hit his second shot out of bounds on the par-5 14th in the final round of the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St. Georges when he had a chance to win.

Still, Johnson has had five top-10s in just 16 major championship appearances.

Yet despite being the most prolific winner on tour under the age of 30, the Ryder Cupper who had a 3-0 record at Medinah isn't at the top of the conversation as a potential rival to Rory McIlroy, who at 23 has six victories, including two majors.

This may have something to do with Johnson's laid-back style. He wants to be No. 1 in the world as much as anybody, but it's probably not the first thing he thinks about when he wakes up every morning. As one of the best pure athletes in the game -- he can dunk a basketball -- it's understandable if he sometimes took for granted a portion of his natural abilities.

As much as he espouses the virtues of working with Butch Harmon, Johnson -- with his bowed left wrist and shut clubface -- is essentially a feel player with the good fortune of having a lean, 6-foot-4 frame and near supernatural clubhead speed.

"I haven't achieved everything that I can," Johnson said on Tuesday. "I haven't played to my full potential yet. So you know, maybe it will happen this year. I still have got a lot of things I need to work on and improve, and if I do that, then I think I'll have a very good year."

But does the Myrtle Beach, S.C., native have the head to meet these aims and take on the expectations that come with being a top young American player?

On Tuesday, Johnson played in the final group with Stricker, who has earned nine of his 12 tour wins since turning 40. Stricker has had a very nice career, for sure, but he's not destined for the Hall of Fame. By the time he's done on the regular tour, Johnson should easily surpass Stricker in career wins and top-10s in majors. But the two-time comeback player of the year award winner shouldn't be the model for Johnson's future.

For him to reach his full potential, Johnson needs to set his sights on McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson, Matteo Manassero and the legions of young players vying to get their share of the majors over the next decade.

Tiger has created a whole generation of players in the business of becoming No. 1 in the world. And Johnson is certainly in that class. But it's a full-time job, a 24/7 venture, both mentally and physically. And Johnson has to decide if he is willing to work that hard for the long haul.

The Masters is the only major where Johnson doesn't own a top-10 finish. But it won't be long before he does well at Augusta, which is very receptive to his superior driving skills. He pulled out of the tournament last year after suffering a back injury while trying to lift a Jet Ski. If he wants to reach his vaunted potential, Johnson might want to put a harness on some of these hazardous hobbies.

On Tuesday afternoon, Johnson downplayed media buzz about him reaching No. 2 in the world by the end of the year. He will be in the Sony Open field in Honolulu, set to start on Thursday at the Waialae Country Club. By Sunday, if he makes the cut, he will have played 126 holes in seven days. But he's a cool and relaxed customer who shouldn't have a problem playing such a grueling schedule.

"For me, 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.

"And then for this year, I don't really look at goals like that. ... There's some things that I need to improve in my game, and if I do that, then the rest will fall into place."