The way Dustin Johnson has played golf the past four days at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play tournament, his performance begs one very serious question.
Can the Masters start tomorrow?
For the record, Johnson hasn't won his third consecutive tournament or his fifth WGC title -- not yet, anyway -- but he's done nothing to dispel the notion at Austin Country Club that he is clearly the No. 1 player in the world.
Unless there's a higher designation, of course. They might need one for him.
Everything, and I do mean everything, has gone Johnson's way. He's made it look easy. Heck, as he walked to catch up with yet another booming drive that he crushed on the sixth fairway Saturday, some guy in the very crowded gallery was seemingly lost for things to compliment, so he bellowed, "Nice beard."
So, yeah, he's No. 1 in groomsmanship, too.
The implacable Johnson did have a momentary hiccup on the back nine when his quarterfinal opponent, eighth-seeded Alex Noren out of Oklahoma State, won three consecutive holes on 10, 11 and 12 to draw even in the match -- the first time in 72 holes since Johnson had teed off Wednesday that he was all square in a match. So what happened then?
Johnson birdied three of the next four holes to put away the talented Swede and reach the Dell semifinals.
Yeah, you might say he's been dominant. He's yet to hit a ball on the 17th or 18th hole.
Now he'll face Japanese putter extraordinaire Hideto Tanihara, the same player who put a notch on his belt Wednesday by upsetting Jordan Spieth. So how does Johnson look to him?
"He looks unbeatable," Tanihara said.
Johnson, who captured the WGC event in Mexico two weeks ago, has very clearly separated himself from the field again. In quality as well as distance. He bombed his opening drive 359 yards and had another one travel 353 on No. 6. Few can match his length. Or his resume.
The three other semifinalists with a chance to derail the peaking 32-year-old South Carolinian from joining Tiger Woods as the only two players to win consecutive WGC events aren't exactly the Who's Who of golf. Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and Spieth, they're all gone.
Among the survivors, Jon Rahm, Bill Haas and Tanihara have combined to win just seven PGA Tour events in their careers. Johnson's won 14 Tour events by himself, including the last three he's entered. Rahm and Tanihara are making very splashy WGC debuts.
Rahm's been pretty formidable himself. The 22-year-old Spaniard didn't allow Soren Kjeldsen to win a single hole in their match. Haas held off crowd favorite Phil Mickelson, and 54th-seeded Tanihara has been cruising all week. If Johnson wins Sunday, he'll claim his fifth WGC title, second only to Woods' 18.
Johnson took over the No. 1 ranking with his five-stroke victory at Riviera and shows no signs of relinquishing it. He also shows no signs of emotion, throwing up a brief fist pump after his birdie putt on 15 put him 2 up. Few athletes are calmer than this slender 6-foot-4 specimen, who's a natural athlete. He can dunk a basketball, and he lifts weights nearly every day.
Among those in the grandstand on the first tee before the quarterfinal round was another admirer. Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell sat in the first row and couldn't wait to see Johnson tee off.
"I love him because he's never changed. He reminds me of myself," said Campbell, the Pro Football Hall of Famer who famously handed the ball to referees after touchdowns. "He makes a birdie, but he doesn't get too excited."
Even though there's an awful lot to get excited about. Johnson's one of the rare top players in this elite field to have survived and reached the weekend. When he eliminated Noren 3 and 2 on a gorgeous, Austintacious kind of sunny afternoon with only a whisper of wind, Johnson was the last remaining top 10 seed in the field.
Not that he got all worked up about it.
Asked to describe his pulse on the course, Johnson said, "It's beating. ... Not very fast."
And does it ever quicken?
"Sometimes," he said. "It just all depends, if I'm walking up a steep hill or something."
It's been all high ground for the powerful golfer who has vastly upgraded his putting and wedge game. He's second in the field in strokes gained putting.
Few can match his conditioning. He does a spin cycle on a stationary bike for 45 minutes a day and then probably eats fire hydrants for lunch. For sure, nothing rattles him, not even near misses in the majors. He's had a few of those like the PGA Championship before breaking through and winning last year's U.S. Open at Oakmont.
He's likely to snag a few more majors and could benefit because McIlroy, Day and Spieth are not in their best form. And now that he's won a major, he's more relaxed than ever, if that's possible.
"Yeah, it's definitely nice to know now that I've got one," Johnson said. "Hopefully will have some more."
But he's looking ahead only to Sunday, not the Masters.
Said Johnson, "I'll focus on Augusta when I pull down Magnolia Lane."
With a faint pulse.
This article is written by Kirk Bohls from Austin American-Statesman and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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