J.B. Holmes ran out of putter early in a historic Blue Monster Sunday collapse. Bubba Watson passed Holmes on the leaderboard before running out of precision.
That left this year’s World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship for Dustin Johnson, who retained just enough putter, precision, gumption and drive to win by one stroke over Holmes and two over Watson with a final-round 3-under-par 69 and 9-under 279 total.
Though Johnson has been a consistent PGA Tour winner — this is his eighth consecutive season with a victory — it’s his first since taking several months off away from the game last year in what might or might not have been a substance-abuse suspension and first since becoming a father. Johnson and fiancée Paulina Gretzky became parents in January.
“First as a dad, definitely, is the most special,” Johnson said. “You know, Paulina and Tatum were waiting for me when I got done. That was the best part of the day for sure.”
The best part of the day for spectators came right before that, the tee shots on the perilous par-4 No. 18 with Johnson up one shot on Holmes. Two of the tour’s and the tournament’s biggest hitters attacked the maw of the Blue Monster with breathtaking violence and power.
Needing to birdie the hole, Holmes unsurprisingly blasted a drive that went 311 yards and stayed on the narrow fairway. Spectators near the 18th tee barely had calmed their breathing when Johnson slammed a 317-yard drive that sent electric ripples through the crowd as it sizzled past on its way to the right side of the fairway.
Johnson, who like many found himself driving well right the first three days to avoid the water on the left, said, “He hit it in the fairway and then I knew I need to hit this ball in the fairway. I did pull it a hair, but I absolutely smashed it.”
Johnson put his second shot in the rough near the back of the green. Holmes’ birdie putt from 40 feet rolled 39 feet. Johnson safely two-putted for the win.
“Dustin played a great round,” Holmes said. “I knew even if I had a little bit of an off day it would take a good round to beat me and, 69 out here is pretty freaking good today.”
In the 53 previous PGA events at Doral, nobody with a 54-hole lead of at least five shots failed to bring home the big check ($1.57 million this year). Holmes started the tournament with a course record-tying 10-under 62 and reeled off four consecutive birdies late in Saturday’s third round to take a five-shot lead into Sunday.
Holmes birdie putt on No. 18 seemed similar to his putt on No. 1, No. 4 and several other holes — close enough for the frustrating tap-in par. His only final-round birdie came on No. 16 after his 48-foot eagle putt looked at the hole and coyly stayed away.
“I hit a lot of putts right where I wanted to. Just didn’t go in,” Holmes said.
What set up as a Sunday stroll around Trump National Doral’s Blue course for Holmes took five holes to turn into a three-way survival test. By the time Holmes teed off on No. 6, he and Watson were even at 9-under.
“You just kind of expect it,” Holmes said. “Very rarely does somebody have that big lead and hold it through the whole day. The guys are good out there. Bubba was 4-under through seven. The way the wind was blowing, that was ridiculous.”
Watson took a two-shot lead by birdieing the par-4 No. 7 while Holmes bogeyed No. 6. Meanwhile, Johnson got his putting together after missing birdie chances on Nos. 1 and 2.
“I tried my best not to get frustrated with the putter because I knew I was swinging well,” Johnson said. “You just keep hitting good golf shots, keep playing your game, don’t worry about what they’re doing, and we’ll see what happens.”
What happened was Watson bogeyed three of four holes from Nos. 11 through 14. At one point, after Watson bogeyed No. 12, the three sat tied for the lead at 8-under.
“I missed the fairway on 12 by five feet,” Watson said. “Then I plugged it in the lip where if it doesn’t plug, I might be able to save par there. It’s a couple feet here and there. That’s what this golf course does. If you’re just off, it can get to you real fast.”
Watson bogeyed the par-4 No. 14 to drop to 7-under. Holmes did the same after his approach landed on the rough slope beyond the green. Johnson’s approach went almost to the same place, but he made a tough 10-footer to save par on 14.
That gave him the lead, and he drained a 13-foot putt on the par-3 15th to build the two-shot buffer he nursed to the end.
1. Dustin Johnson
2. J.B. Holmes
3. Bubba Watson
T4. Adam Scott
T4. Henrik Stenson