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DJ Takes WGC- HSBC Champions by Three
Dustin Johnson held off all comers in the $8.5 million WGC-HSBC Champions, carding his second straight 6-under 66 over the weekend at Sheshan International Golf Club to win the prestigious event in Shanghai.
Johnson took the lead on Friday with a then-course-record-tying 63 and never looked back. On Sunday, after a bogey on the par-4 first hole, the lanky, long-hitting South Carolinian made no further mistakes from that point forward, carding five birdies and a chip-in eagle on the par-4 16th to finish at 24-under 264, three strokes ahead of defending champion Ian Poulter, who also shot 66.
"It's the biggest win I've had in my career so far," an ebullient Johnson said of his eighth title. "Those guys put a lot of pressure on me. I'm really proud of the way I handled myself."
Poulter carded four birdies on the front nine along with three birdies and a bogey on the back. Johnson's lead - combined with his wonderful playing this week - were just too much for the Englishman and anyone else in the elite international field to overcome.
Poulter played in the final group with Johnson and Graeme McDowell, the latter of which has been impressed with Johnson's prodigious and accurate tee shots all week.
"A little disappointed not to put my hands back on the trophy," said Poulter, who won the HSBC Champions last year at Mission Hills. "But 15 birdies and an eagle at the weekend is some pretty good golf. Dustin finished the job. It was good golf and it was good fun to play in that group."
"He trenches one 350 down the middle and has the hands to that 70-yard shot to the front pin and make the putt," added McDowell, who also had a 66 and ended up four strokes behind the winner in solo third.
"He's just a quality, talented, very athletic, classy player. Yeah, he makes mistakes. But when you've got a game as good as him, you can get away with a few mistakes. He's just got a great wedge game to go with just an outrageously good driving game."
Spain's Sergio Garcia matched the previous course record of 63 - broken on Saturday by Martin Kaymer's 62 - en route to a fourth-place finish at 18-under 270, while two further strokes back was England's Justin Rose (68). Nine behind the winner were Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy and Canada's Graham DeLaet, who both closed with 69s.
Welshman Jamie Donaldson (67), American Bubba Watson (66) and Kaymer (68) shared eighth at 274. One stroke further down the leaderboard were Ernie Els (66), Keegan Bradley (68) and Boo Weekley (69).
Phil Mickelson finally got untracked in the tournament; the 2013 British Open champion fired a 65 to end up in 14th at 276.
Johnson, who earned $1.4 million, recognized later that how he dealt with the early bogey was the key to his coming through on Sunday. "The first five holes were not fun," he said of the opening bogey followed by six straight pars.
"I wasn't having too much fun at the start, especially when Graeme and Ian were birdieing every hole, it seemed like. But I knew I just needed to keep playing my game."
For the second straight year Johnson won in his season debut on the PGA Tour. His most recent triumph came in the 2012 season opener, the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Hawaii. Now, the 29-year-old has his sights on a major title.
"You know what?" he said. "If I play like I did this week, I'm going to win one, for sure." (See below for Johnson's full post-round interview session.)
For all the scores, visit http://www.worldgolfchampionships.com/hsbc-champions/leaderboard.html.
After signing his card, Johnson met with reporters for the following Q&A.
MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome Dustin Johnson to the interview room. You started off your 2013 season with a win. Tell us what it feels like to start off another season with a win, this time in a World Golf Championships event.
DUSTIN JOHNSON: It feels good. It's been a long year. So obviously getting off this year with a win is definitely huge, especially winning HSBC WGC. It's my biggest win I've had so far in my career, and you know, it feels really good. Especially I put a lot of work in this year, and I've struggled a lot. Got off, I won the first event of the year and I struggled a little bit through the end. But you know, I've been putting in a lot of work the last month or two, and you know, it definitely feels really good to get a win and get off to a good start this year.
Q. Wonder if you can talk about the difference between fun and pressure, and specifically if you can talk about that five hole stretch at the end.
DUSTIN JOHNSON: Well, that was fun. The first five holes were not fun. Especially I missed a short putt on 1, and then into the birdieing 2 with a 6 iron in, that was pretty bad, just a poor shot. So I wasn't having too much fun at the start, especially when Graeme and Ian, they were birdieing every hole it seemed like starting out. But I knew I just needed to keep playing my game, keep getting it in the fairway - and birdieing 8 and 9 were huge for me to get back, at least to shoot 1 under on the front, because it felt like - at one point it wasn't as easy as it was yesterday but it was still doable with the greens being soft and the greens were rolling so good.
But honestly, turning on the back side, probably the biggest putt I made was that one on 14 which Ian was already in there for birdie, and Graeme had just holed a 40 footer. So that was a big putt there. And then obviously the pitch in on 16 and the birdie on 17 was huge.
Q. 3 iron on 16?
DUSTIN JOHNSON: 3 iron, yeah, just short of the green. If I were to place the ball, that would be where I would place it.
Q. Before we had a contest for Chinese golf fans to guess who is the winner and basically after the second day and the third day, and you Rory McIlroy would be the most favorite to win the tournament, and so now by not only beating Rory, but also by winning this tournament, you will gain yourself a lot of China golf fans. So anything you want to say to our Chinese fans here?
DUSTIN JOHNSON: (Smiling) Thanks for all the support. The fans out there this week were great. You know, maybe a few too many camera clicks, but other than that, it was all right. You know, it was big crowds here on Saturday and Sunday, and I can't thank the guys enough for coming out and supporting me.
Q. Please share your experience about the important eagle putt on the 16th hole.
DUSTIN JOHNSON: Well, I think at that point, I was one ahead on 16. So, you know, I knew 16 and 18 were really birdie holes, and then 17 is a tough par 3. But I knew on 16, I just needed to hit a good tee shot, which I hit it perfect. And the pitch shot, I was talking to my brother right before I hit it. I said, "I think I'm going to make this one." I hit the pitch just perfect and it went right in the middle.
That was huge, and especially to have a two shot lead going into 17; and I hit a great shot to 17 about seven or eight feet and holed that putt. And then to have a three shot lead going into 18, that's right where I want to be. I think someone asked me earlier in the week, you know, if you've got a three shot lead, what are you doing on 18. I said I'm going to hit 3 iron off the tee, and I did, which is perfect. I couldn't get there unless I hit a perfect drive, and after hitting it in the water yesterday, I wasn't hitting driver. But, you know, three really good shots on 18.
Q. You were well known as a powerful hitter, but this time in the HSBC Champions, we see a long distance and short distance putting that you're doing really well, been a putting king so far. Can you share with us, during the season, what kind of strategy or what kind of ways do you use to train yourself in getting ready and to have such a good performance on putting?
DUSTIN JOHNSON: Well, obviously this week, I putted very well. But just from practice - all I practice really is short putts inside 10 feet. Just really work on hitting it on my line, hitting it down the line. You know, today at the beginning of the day, I didn't putt very well, but I was more trying to make putts instead of trying to hit them down the line and just let the ball go in the hole. But you know, just as far as putting, it comes and goes. I struggled a little bit this year with the putting, and then, you know, I've been practicing a pretty good bit with it lately and played good at The Tour Championship and this week, and putted good in Australia, too. Putting is all about just repetition, keep doing the same thing over and over.
Q. In the last few holes when the score is 21 under, everybody is so tense, I know the players are intense, and I'm very tense, as well, because we already had bid one hundred dollars on you and if you won, I keep $3,000. How do players feel during that time when everybody is tied up in the game?
DUSTIN JOHNSON: It's definitely tense. We are all grinding. All three of us were grinding. Wasn't much talking going on between us the last few holes, because you know, I mean - but I know for me personally, I held it together pretty good. Honestly, on 17, after I chipped in on 16, definitely I was feeling pretty good about where I was at and pretty comfortable, and then 17, heart is beating a little fast for sure. Not as much on the tee shot, but on the putt, you know, you can definitely feel everything is moving a little bit quicker. But I still - it's definitely nervous, but it's a good nervous. I thought I controlled my nerves very well today, and 18, I could feel the heat on 18, for sure.
Q. How far would you estimate you were on No. 16 for that chip in? And second of all, sorry if you already talked about this earlier in the week, but was there a reason why your brother was caddying for you instead of Bobby this week?
DUSTIN JOHNSON: For 16, I mean, it might have been 20 yards - yeah, 20 yards. I had about 10 yards to the front and then, you know, it was about - yeah, it was about 20 yards. And then Bobby - my brother came to caddie for me in Australia and then so - and then he was coming onto Thailand with me. So I just called Bob and said there's no point for him to fly all the way over here for this one week, especially he just had a new baby. So I told him just to stay home with the kid.
Q. Now that you've won a WGC event, do you feel like a major is the next step, and which one do you feel your game is more suited to? And how often, if at all, do you think about Whistling Straits?
DUSTIN JOHNSON: I don't really think about it unless I see a picture or someone asks a question. But I mean, major is always the next step. You know, am I suited best for one or the other, I don't think so. I think they all suit me very well. You know what, if I play like I did this week, I'm going to win one for sure. But you know, I really like Augusta, so I mean, that would be my favorite one. But I grew up right down the street from Augusta, and you know, I just love playing that golf course.
Q. Well, obviously today due to the weather conditions and particularly as you mentioned some of the Chinese fans might give you some kind of distraction together with the weather, but you were consistent, and especially with the high focus in the golfing field this time. How did you train for this kind of high intensity and high focus level to deal with the game? And secondly, from yesterday's game, you had your up and downs, maybe referring to the double bogey. So when you're entering today, particularly in the last few holes, how did you settle down yourself to avoid the same kind of mistakes once again?
DUSTIN JOHNSON: Can you repeat that? I'm just kidding. (Laughter). I mean, obviously I've been in this situation time and time again, so you know, you practice and you train for this. So I've put in a lot of work and a lot of practice. But you still, even when you're practicing, you can't put your mind and your body in this situation. So you know, it's almost impossible to practice for that. But you've just got to know in that situation, you've got to trust yourself and know what you're doing, and like what you did to get there is the right thing. So obviously I was playing well and swinging well and not trying to do anything different than what I have been doing. Just keep doing what I've been doing; that's what got me there, so why would I try to change it.
DUSTIN JOHNSON: I stuck to my game plan, and obviously I played really well on the last few holes of the front nine and had a great back nine. But the guys, they made it really interesting, and you know, I just played really good coming down the stretch.
Q. You were up against a couple of bulldogs, players who love match play; did you feel the intensity?
DUSTIN JOHNSON: Oh, I knew they were going to come out swinging. I held them off, and fortunately I played really well coming down the stretch. The last few holes here, if you play them well, you can make some birdies. But they are tough holes. You know, it was a lot of fun out there today. It was a good match from both of them. They put a lot of pressure on me, but I'm really proud of myself the way I handled it and the way I finished.
Q. The guys in the box were saying you showed a lot of maturity and patience today. Do you feel that's something that you learned and improved on?
DUSTIN JOHNSON: Yes, you know, it takes a while to learn that, especially I wish I would have had some a few times a few years ago. But you learn from your mistakes and you try to get better from them and I think I showed a lot of patience out there and a lot of discipline with different clubs and shot selection. I played really solid today. Also, I just want to thank HSBC. I think they did a great job this week. The tournament's fantastic.
Q. How did you sleep last night? Because you could have been five or six shots ahead, and you had that horrible double bogey finish; did that bother you?
DUSTIN JOHNSON: I was mad. I was mad at myself for 18 yesterday, it was playing pretty easy, and for me to make double on 18 yesterday was just very poor, especially as good as I'm playing. So I was a little angry, but I knew I just needed to come out today and play my golf and it will take care of itself. Yeah, I was definitely a little mad but I slept just fine last night.
Q. Was there a key turning point for you today?
DUSTIN JOHNSON: The putt on 14. After I drove it in the rough and then hit it just short of the green, I hit a very poor wedge shot, left it about 20 feet short, and you know, Graeme made about a 50 footer, and for me to make the next one right after he did, especially since Poulter was already in for a birdie, I think that was a big turning point there. Obviously the pitch in on 16 helped a little, too.
Q. You've come so close in Majors, do you feel that this might be the springboard that will help you to get over the line?
DUSTIN JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, this is probably my biggest win, and with the field and the tournament, World Golf Championships. Hopefully there's just better things to come.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.