The biggest — and most obvious — winner this week has to be world No. 1 Dustin Johnson. Johnson breezed through the group play stage and first two knockout rounds to secure his place in the semi-finals. Then on Sunday, without his best game, he dispatched Hideto Tanihara and Jon Rahm to complete the WGC career grand slam and earn his 15th PGA Tour victory.
Johnson raced out to early leads in both his matches on Sunday – 3 up through seven holes in the morning and 5 up through eight holes in the afternoon – before letting the leads slip away on the back nine. But he proved why he the No. 1 player in the world, and hit gutsy shots coming down the stretch to preserve the victories.
And the scariest part for everyone else on Tour? Johnson doesn’t even feel like he is playing his best golf yet.
“I’m playing really well, don’t get me wrong,” Johnson said. “If I’m playing my best, yeah, I’ll play against anybody, anytime.”
God help everyone else when he does start playing “his best.”
The fans from all over the world who converged on Austin Country Club last week have lots of positives to take away from the week. The best Austin has to offer was showcased – whether it be the local food trucks from Torchy’s Tacos and Amy’s Ice Cream, or the Dell Technologies Fan Experience tent down by the lake.
All in all, there were few complaints from fans last week – not even the $7 a pop price on beer. If there were issues with the fan experience, they were few and far between.
Austin Country Club
Not enough good things could be said about ACC last week — from the opening press conferences at Hotel Van Zandt on Monday, to the champion’s press conference Sunday evening. Everyone – players, fans, sports writers, etc. – raved about the course. The 17th hole in particular was a favorite. One writer even went so far as to describe it as “the best par-3 in America without water.”
And players were thrilled with the course as well, especially for the match play format.
“I think it’s great,” Johnson said. “I think it’s a great match play course. It’s a lot of fun. You make a lot of birdies. I like the golf course a lot. I feel like it sets up well for me. And it sets up well for match play. It’s a fun golf course to play.”
Spieth — the golden child and Austin darling — never quite looked comfortable at ACC last week. Even on a track that he has extensive experience playing from his time at the University of Texas, Spieth struggled to get anything going in his group-play matches.
He lost his opening match 4 and 2 to Hideto Tanihara – who he admitted he knew very little about coming into the week. He followed it up with a victory over Yuta Ikeda. But Spieth would halve with Ryan Moore on Friday and get bounced from the tournament.
But Spieth was still encouraged by the performance as he looks ahead to the Masters next week.
“All in all, I’m very, very happy right now going forward,” Spieth said. “Going to try and build on this momentum.”
Also the fans
Yes, Austin Country Club is a terrific golf course. And yes, the success it has had in two years hosting the Dell Technologies Match Play deserves to be celebrated. But it is no secret that ACC is not the most spectator friendly course in the world – particularly on the front nine (back nine for member play).
Most of the holes on that side of the golf course only allow for spectators on one side of the fairway – an issue for getting a good view of the action during the weekend matches. The slog of spectators crammed together for a good look of the championship match was a sight to behold. Although, the scene of fans sprinting down the side of the 18th fairway was quite entertaining.
This is not a slight at ACC. The Pete Dye design utilizing the hills and the lake make for a unique golfing experience. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make for the friendliest course for viewing golf.
Jon Rahm’s chip shot on No. 18
Through eight holes in the championship match, Rahm looked dead in the water. His ball striking wasn’t as sharp as it had been all week, and his usually steady putter suddenly went cold. But over the final 10 holes, the 22-year-old proved why he is one of the most-promising young players in the world.
Rahm birdied No. 13, No. 15 and No. 16 to trim Johnson’s lead to 1 up. He smashed his drive over the green on No. 18 and faced a delicate up-and-down to force extra holes.
Just as he began his backswing on the chip shot, a loud crash could be heard from somewhere behind the 18th green. He appeared to chunk the shot and was left with a near-impossible putt for birdie.
“You hope those things don’t bother you, but unfortunately for me it did,” Rahm said. “I wish I could go back and hit it over the slope 15, 20 feet left. But it’s just things that happen, honestly. It won’t be the last time I have a noise on my swing on the last hole… It’s golf. It happens.”
It was an unfortunate end to the week for Rahm, but the young Spaniard will surely be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.