Forget the birdies, including a brace of them to finish. That Dustin Johnson landed his first triumph in a regular European Tour event with victory in the £2.5 million Saudi International was down to one of the best bogeys of his career.
In a thrilling final round at Royal Greens, Johnson went from leading outright early to trailing to China’s Haotong Li heading into the back nine to getting his nose back in front again with a few holes to play.
He had a two-shot cushion, in fact, arriving on the 16th tee on the banks of the Red Sea, where he did extremely well to stop the red mist descending after pulling his tee shot into the water.
Taking his penalty drop at the front of the tee, Johnson was still left with a shot from 154 yards but, keeping his cool, that was despatched to around 15 feet before confidently rolling in the putt.
His lead was down to one when it could have disappeared and that birdie-birdie finish for a closing 67 and a 19-under-par 261 total saw the world No 3 finish two shots ahead of Li (69).
“It was definitely tight, and then I made it a lot closer at the end than it should have been, hitting it in the water on 16,” said Johnson afterwards as he savoured a success that was worth just under £450,000.
“I had good number – 199 yards for a 7-iron – but I just pulled it a little bit. To have pretty much the same shot again and hit it in there close and make the putt was definitely the momentum changer for me.” This was Johnson’s 21st worldwide victory and means he has now tasted success at least once every season for the past 12 years. “It’s a big win and I’m honoured to be the champion,” admitted the 34-year-old from South Carolina. “The things that I’ve been working on are working, and I’ve still got a lot of room for improvement. I’m very pleased with where the game is at. I’ve got a lot of confidence in what I’m doing and I feel like I’m hitting a lot of really good golf shots.
“I’m not making as many mistakes, even though I made one today on 16 that wasn’t very good. But that was really about the only really bad shot I hit this week. To get a win here is big, and gives me a lot of confidence for the rest of the year.”
Li’s latest strong performance – he chipped in at the ninth to edge ahead before stumbling a bit early on the back nine – came seven days after he had lost around £80,000 for an alleged breach of the new rules by his caddie on the 72nd hole in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
The 22-year-old pocketed just under £300,000 after proving he is made of stern stuff as he bounced back straight away, moving into the top ten in this season’s Race to Dubai.
Englishman Tom Lewis finished third, a shot behind Li, after also getting himself in the mix on the back nine while Liam Johnston was leading Scot in joint 30th. After a closing 68, he ended up on five-under, three shots better than compatriot Bob MacIntyre, who came home in four-under for a 68.