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Dustin Johnson came into the Saudi International as the world number one and a previous winner (2019) and runner-up (2020) in the event so the expectation on him winning this week was already high before the first shot was even struck on Thursday.
It would prove to be the case but two of the event’s other drawcards, Justin Rose and Tony Finau, made it a tough contest, forcing Johnson to pull out all stops to hold them out.
Rose, in particular, had set the mark when, playing 40 minutes ahead of the final group, recording a final round of 65. When Johnson bogeyed the 16th hole he was just one ahead but a birdie at the 17th gave him a two shot advantage which he maintained with a par at the last.
For Johnson it signalled to him and others in the golfing world that his game is in the sort of shape to continue his recent domination of the game. This was just his second event of 2021 but in an ominous warning he summed up the impact the victory might have on him in ongoing months.
“Yeah, it’s tough to win on The European Tour, PGA TOUR, no matter what ranking you are,” said the champion. But yeah, obviously winning as No. 1 is definitely good, and obviously it gives me a little bit more of a lead.
“It gives me a lot of confidence going in for the rest of the year. Obviously, we’re at the beginning of the year, so pleased with how I’m playing and looking forward to the rest of the year.”
Johnson has now finished first or second in six of his last nine events, one of those victory in his second to last event, The Masters.
Johnson first became the world number in February 2017 and has held that mantle for a total of 116 weeks in six different periods. The manner in which he is playing at present, suggests he could add significantly to that total in the year ahead.
For Rose it was his best finish on either the European or PGA Tours since winning the Farmers Insurance Open February of 2019.
Rose was buoyed by his improved showing. “I’ve been working on a lot of stuff but really staying patient,” said the Bahamas based Englishman.
“I haven’t been playing my best golf and easy to get frustrated. I’ve kind of stayed with it, even though this three-week trip, it felt like it’s been slow going, and good golf hasn’t been rewarded and I’ve made silly mistakes. Momentum hasn’t quite been on my side yet. So to play a bogey-free 65 on a Sunday is something to kind of take and fuel the upcoming run.”
New Zealand’s Ryan Fox did best of the Australasians finishing 6th after a final round of 68 although he had closed within two shots of Johnson through 12 holes before bogeys at the 15th and 17th cost him any hope of a possible victory. It was, though, Fox’s best finish in his last 16 events and very encouraging especially considering the strength of this field.
Wade Ormsby was the only other Australasian to make the cut, eventually finishing in 63rd place.
The European Tour will now take a break of over a month until the Qatar Masters in early March although those eligible will play the WGC event in Florida beginning on February 25th.