Martin Dempster: Dustin Johnson favourite to Master Augusta

To borrow a line from a Robbie Williams song: When's it gonna stop, DJ? That's three victories in a row now for Dustin Johnson. The last '¨two '“ a brace of World Golf Championships '“ have come since he took over as world No 1. Make no mistake, the 32-year-old is heading into The Masters as a justified clear favourite.
Dustin Johnson, with the WGC Dell Match Play trophy, is beginning to look invincible. Picture: Getty.Dustin Johnson, with the WGC Dell Match Play trophy, is beginning to look invincible. Picture: Getty.
Dustin Johnson, with the WGC Dell Match Play trophy, is beginning to look invincible. Picture: Getty.

History is against him. The last player to head to Augusta National as world No 1 and win was Tiger Woods back in 2002. His current red-hot form isn’t the only reason, though, that Johnson will be bounding up Magnolia Lane in a week’s time with a spring in his step. He has finished tied sixth and tied fourth in the season’s opening major the past two years.

“I really like that golf course, have played good there the last two years and I’m excited to go back when the game is in good form. I feel like everything is working pretty well,” said Johnson in something of an 

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Nine titles have now fallen to the man from South Carolina in the past nine months. He has never looked back, in fact, since making that long-awaited breakthrough in the majors when winning the US Open at Oakmont last June.

How many of those coveted crowns had slipped from his grasp before that? Three or four, possibly even five.

As an American colleague pointed out in the wake of Johnson becoming the first player to win all four WGCs, the difference these days is that he has developed a knack for not beating himself.

Whereas we once knew that he would shoot himself in the foot when a big event reached the business end, Johnson now looks almost invincible.

It was the same with Rory 
McIlroy when he went on his hot streak in 2014, winning the Open Championship, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the US PGA Championship in successive starts. Jason Day, too, when he hit a purple patch in the second half of the 2015 
season. And, of course, Woods more than once when he was at the peak of his career.

So, can Johnson, who has decided to scrap a scheduled appearance in this week’s Shell Houston Open, justify that favouritism in The Masters? There is no reason why not. He is driving the ball as though it is on a piece of string. And his length, of course, is an advantage on almost every golf course these guys play.

It is always fascinating listening to the likes of Tom Watson and Sandy Lyle, two guys who can still get the ball out there a fair distance, talking about the difficulty they face at Augusta National trying to hit greens with a 4-iron when they used to be going in with an 8-iron at the same hole. Johnson is in that fortunate position of being so much closer to greens off the tee and now has a wedge game to take full advantage.

If he still has one slight weakness, it is probably his putting. A really poor effort at the tenth in the final of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club opened a door for Spaniard Jon Rahm, though it is probably unfair to pick out one putt when Johnson has holed countless others during his dazzling run of form.

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The scary thing is that the man himself believes there is better still to come. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m playing really well and I’m not surprised with the number of wins I’ve had in the last, whatever, ten months or however long it’s been. But I don’t feel like I’m playing my best,” he declared in the wake of eventually winning on the last green against Rahm. “I definitely have what it takes to win out here. I’ve got a lot of confidence in my game and confidence in myself, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement. And being No 1, it kind of drives me to work harder and to get better.”

While Rahm himself can feel confident about getting in the Masters mix on his debut in the event, the 22-year-old Spaniard has no doubts whatsoever about who is going to be the man to beat next week. “Man, I mean what’s to say,” he said of his conqueror.

“His power off the tee, it’s amazing how he’s able to keep cool the entire round. And he’s just a perfect, complete player. Honestly, he doesn’t really make mistakes. I think he’s learned from what he’s done in the past and he’s embracing it now and that’s why he’s winning tournaments.”

To answer that question posed at the start of this column, maybe not for some time.