CHAMPIONS
Reigning U.S. Open Champion Now World No. 1 February 19, 2017 By David Shefter, USGA

Dustin Johnson's victory puts him in exclusive company among players who have won a PGA Tour event in each of their first 10 seasons. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

When Dustin Johnson arrives at Erin Hills this June to defend his U.S. Open title, he could be the No. 1 player in the world.

Johnson ascended to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking on Sunday with a dominating five-stroke victory in the Genesis Open at The Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif.

Entering the week in the No. 3 spot, Johnson needed a win at Riviera and for current No. 1 Jason Day to finish worse than a tie for third. While Day made the 36-hole cut, he finished in a tie for 64th, leaving the door wide open for Johnson.

Because of heavy wind and 3 inches of rain on Friday, Johnson was faced with a marathon 36-hole finish on Sunday, something that didn’t bother the uber-athletic 13-time PGA Tour winner. He carded a 7-under-par 64 on Sunday morning and cruised home with an even-par 71 for a 17-under total of 287. He threatened the 72-hole tournament record held by 1971 U.S. Amateur champion Lanny Wadkins (284), but a short missed birdie putt on No. 11 and consecutive bogeys on Nos. 15 and 16 cut short that effort.

The thousands of spectators jammed on the hillside of Riviera’s 18th hole didn’t seem to care about the record. They began chanting “No. 1, No. 1!” even before Johnson finished off his victory with a tap-in par putt.

“It sounds good,” said Johnson of being No. 1 after posting his fourth victory since his three-stroke win at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club last June. “It gives me a lot of confidence and pushed me to work even harder. 

“I didn’t finish the last 10 holes [Sunday afternoon] the way I would have liked to, but I had a pretty big lead there. I still would have liked to play better the last 10 holes.”

His second-nine effort withstanding, Johnson also joined elite company by becoming the fourth player in the modern era to claim at least one PGA Tour victory in each of his first 10 seasons. The other three are all legendary players who have won at least one U.S. Open: Jack Nicklaus (17), Arnold Palmer (17) and Tiger Woods (14).

Johnson, 32, knows it’s going to take tremendous golf to maintain his No. 1 status, especially by the time the U.S. Open rolls around. Day held the spot for 47 weeks, but along with the powerful Australian, the 2007 USA Walker Cup competitor will have the likes of 2011 U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy (currently sidelined with a rib injury), Hideki Matsuyama and 2015 U.S. Open champion Jordan Spieth chasing him down.

His power, precision and temperament might just be enough to keep him there for a while. Johnson led the field in driving distance, strokes gained off the tee, greens  in regulation and par-4 scoring.

“He deserves it because he’s been playing great golf,” said Day.

Justin Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open champion, posted his third top-five finish in four starts in 2017. The Englishman tied for fourth at 11-under 273, thanks to rounds of 65-68 on Sunday.

It also was an impressive week for Pepperdine University sophomore Sahith Theegala, who got into the field on Monday via the Genesis Open Collegiate Challenge, shooting a 69 to edge UCLA’s Tyler Collier by one stroke. Theegala, playing his first PGA Tour event, not only made the cut, but played the final 36 holes with 1990 U.S.  Amateur champion and five-time major winner Phil Mickelson, shooting a pair of even-par 71s to tie for 49th at 2-under 282. Theegala, who calls Riviera his favorite course, will return to the classic George Thomas layout in six months for the 117th U.S. Amateur Championship. He is exempt from qualifying thanks to his quarterfinal showing last year at Oakland Hills Country Club.

Jake Honored

Peter Jacobsen, the 2004 U.S. Senior Open champion, was honored last week by the Golf Writers Association of America with its Charlie Bartlett Award for unselfish contributions for the betterment of society. Jacobsen will receive the award at the 45th ISPS Handa GWAA Annual Awards Dinner on April 5 in Augusta, Ga.

Not only has Jacobsen had an impact as a player – he won seven times on the PGA Tour and represented the United States in two Ryder Cups – but he’s been a longtime television analyst for NBC/Golf Channel and he owns a company that manages tournaments, which have contributed $40 million to a list of non-profit organizations.

Past winners of the Bartlett Award include USGA champions Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper, Jack Nicklaus, Patty Sheehan, Betsy King, Tom Watson, Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Lee Trevino.

“It’s fun to be part of this game and it’s a great honor to receive this,” said Jacobsen, 62. “My dad taught me the game and when I started out I didn’t know how good I was, but I knew I had passion and that the game brought me a lot of joy.”

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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