News & Opinion

Johnson reigns as Saudis’ first golf king

KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY, Saudi Arabia – American Dustin Johnson struggled to find his game in Sunday’s final round of the inaugural Saudi International, but his 3-under 67 still proved to be good enough to hold off China’s Haotong Li and win.

The victory, the 20th of Johnson’s career and first on the European Tour, could be attributed mostly to perseverance and patience.

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Dustin Johnson posts his first victory on the European Tour.

MORNING READ/ALEX MICELI
Dustin Johnson posts his first victory on the European Tour.

Tied at the beginning of the day with Li at 16 under, Johnson made the turn trailing by one stroke after Li birdied the par-4 ninth at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club to take his first lead of the week. After both bogeyed the par-4 10th, Johnson made consecutive birdies to retake the lead.

“The birdie on 11, I hit it in there close, and Haotong, he hit it in there close and hit a decent putt and just missed,” Johnson said of the par-3 hole, which he called “the turning point.”

Well, that and No. 16, where he pulled a 7-iron “a little bit,” but it ended up in the Red Sea. Johnson took his drop from 154 yards and hit a pitching wedge to 12 feet, from where he holed a “huge” putt for bogey to remain one stroke ahead.

“Then to stand up there – and I've got to hit pretty much hit the same shot again – and to hit it in there close and make the putt was definitely the momentum kind of changer for me that I needed after hitting it in the water there,” he said.

Johnson proceeded to get up and down for birdie on the par-4 17th to go up by two. Both players birdied the par-5 18th. Johnson finished at 19-under 261 to earn €508,260 (about $582,000) from the $3.5 million purse (scores).

Li, who closed with a 1-under 69, said he was “just a little bit off” on the back nine. “I wasn't my best over there today again. But I learn a lot and especially that last few holes was good for me. I think he deserved to win this event.”

Johnson, who is No. 3 in the Official World Golf Ranking, was headed back to the U.S. for three consecutive tournaments on the PGA Tour. He will play this week at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, where he has won three times, before heading down the California coast to Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades for the Genesis Open next week. A week later, he will play the WGC Mexico Championship before some time off.

“The things that I've been working on are working, and I've still got a lot of room for improvement,” Johnson said. “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. So, misses are starting to get better, and I'm not making as many mistakes, even though I did on 16. I made one today that wasn't very good, but for the most part, that was really about the only really bad shot I hit this week.”

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli