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Dustin back - with a big, big bang


Dustin Johnson's mini-slump at the end of last season was all but forgotten when the World No 1 blazed home to a massive eight-shot victory in the PGA Tour's year-opening Tournament of Champions in Hawaii on Sunday.

Johnson, one of the game's all-time big bangers, did it by shooting a majestic 8-under 65 on Kapalua's par-73 Plantation Course and finishing with a 24-under 268 that totally demolished the elite field made up 34 of last season's 37 PGA tournament winners.

He has now won 17 PGA Tour titles, at least one of those in every year for the past 11.

Spanish sensation John Rahm, who in his rookie season last year, established himself as a brilliant new star in the same firmament as American young-guns, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, finished in a distant but crucial 2nd place on Sunday that is expected to see him leapfrog Thomas in the World Rankings into 3rd place behind Johnson and Spieth when the updated rankings are posted later today (Monday).

Rahm shot a 69 to close with a 16-under 276 total.

And third, all of nine shots off the pace after sharing the halfway lead with Australian Marc Leishman, was American Mark Harman, who finished the wet and windy Sunday with a disappointing 1-under 72.

Leishman, currently Australia's No 1 golfer, eventually finished in a tie for 7th after posting a 67 and Spieth, the bookmakers' pre-tournament favourite, in 10th place after a 69.

Johnson's power and accuracy off the tee which nearly gave him a hole-in-one at the par-four 12th hole where his drive left him with a six-inch tiddler for an eagle, was a major factor in his domination of a tough final round dogged by stiff sea breezes and intermittent rain throughout the day.

"I knew I was playing well and it's a golf course that I'm really confident on," said the towering 33-year-old American who seemed to relish his new driver and never allowed the weather to have any effect on his march to victory.

"I've really been driving the ball (well) this week," he said. "I knew as long as I could keep doing that I was going to play well."

On any other day, Japan's Hideki Matsuyama, who would eventually finish in a three-way tie for 4th with Americans Rickie Fowler and Pat Perez, might have spelled trouble when, with the help of an eagle at the par-5 15th, he picked up five shots in his last seven holes, but at Kapalua on Sunday, Johnson was in such total command, no one else in the field had a chance and all ended up fighting it out of second place.

Johnson's round wasn't entirely error-free. he bogeyed the par-3 11th after finding a bunker with his tee shot.

But his mastery otherwise was such that he was able to surge clear with four front-nine birdies and then remorselessly stretch his lead to eight, the largest winning margin of his career, with that splendid eagle followed by three successive birdies at 14, 15 and 16.

Coming as it did after a season in which he won four titles in the first half but nothing in a second half highlighted by his final-round implosion at the HSBC Champions in Shanghai in October, when he led by six after three rounds but crashed with a closing 77 to eventually finish second to the stronger finishing Justin Rose.

"After China, where I struggled a little bit on Sunday, I didn't want to back down," Johnson said. "Even when I made the turn, I think at 20-under, I told myself to get it to 25. I kind of just kept the pedal down."

Looking back at his hugely satisfying start to 2018, he said: "Obviously I got off to a great start. Now I want to keep it going. Things are going in the right direction again."

(Par 73 - USA unless stated)

268 Dustin Johnson 69 68 66 65
276 Jon Rahm (ESP) 71 70 66 69
277 Brian Harman 68 68 69 72
278 Hideki Matsuyama (JPN) 70 70 72 66, Pat Perez 72 66 71 69, Rickie Fowler 69 71 68 70
279 Marc Leishman (AUS) 67 69 76 67, Jhonattan Vegas (VEN) 68 70 71 70
280 Jordan Spieth 75 66 70 69
281 Kim Si Woo (KOR) 69 71 72 69
282 Daniel Berger 73 70 68 71, Billy Horschel 70 71 70 71, Chris Stroud 72 66 72 72, Jason Dufner 71 68 69 74
283 Patton Kizzire 72 72 69 70, Patrick Cantlay 70 70 72 71
284 Russell Henley 74 69 72 69, Cameron Smith (AUS) 75 70 68 71, Kevin Kisner 70 70 72 72
285 Ryan Armour 71 73 70 71
286 Kevin Chappell 74 70 70 72
288 Justin Thomas 71 75 75 67, Austin Cook 74 74 70 70, Grayson Murray 74 74 69 71, Xander Schauffele 72 72 70 74
289 Bryson De Chambeau 73 73 71 72
290 Wesley Bryan 74 70 76 70, Hudson Swafford 72 72 76 70
291 Brendan Steele 71 74 74 72
292 Kyle Stanley 70 75 73 74
293 Jonas Blixt (SWE) 77 71 75 70
294 Adam Hadwin (CAN) 73 75 74 72
299 D.A. Points 76 76 74 73
305 Brooks Koepka 78 74 78 75.

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Neville Leck

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