News & Opinion

Who has greater upside: Dustin Johnson or Rory McIlroy?

Dustin Johnson (USA) and, Rory McIlroy (NIR) - Abu Dhabi HSBC CH 2018 - PI-180118-0463.jpg
Dustin Johnson (left) and Rory McIlroy, both with multiple major championships, have tremendous upsides as 30-somethings. But who has the greater potential at this stage of his career? Hawk & Purk tee it up.

If that question sounds ridiculous in light of D.J.’s Masters romp, then you and Mike Purkey should read John Hawkins’ reasoning

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Longtime golf journalists John Hawkins and Mike Purkey, who co-host the Hawk & Purk podcast on, also discuss and debate the game’s hottest issues in this weekly commentary.

Whose future would you take right now, Dustin Johnson’s or Rory McIlroy’s?

Hawk’s take: Even my dog laughed at me when I chose McIlroy. He hasn’t won a major championship in 6½ years, which is an eternity when you start your career like a house afire and claim four big titles by age 25. Johnson, meanwhile, is November’s flavor of the month, making it easy for people to forget that he went majorless for 4½ years himself before the dominant performance last week at Augusta National.

Everybody loves the latest greatest, but there are two facts to consider here: McIlroy has twice as many majors as D.J. and is five years younger. Nobody ever appraised Johnson as having the capability to become one of the best golfers ever, whereas McIlroy always has been defined by such an exorbitant measure.

He is the ultra-rare player with limitless potential. His lengthy drought at the majors is a cause for concern, but he has won two FedEx Cup titles and a Player of the Year award since the dry spell began.

He’s not even close to done. Greatness can yield to complacency, but greatness never rusts. Once McIlroy finally realizes that he hasn’t been the same player with best friend Harry Diamond as his caddie, he’ll start winning the game’s biggest events once again. Seven or eight majors is certainly within reason. Johnson will do well to reach four.

Purk’s take: If you’re going to choose between Rory McIlroy’s and Dustin Johnson’s career trajectory moving forward, you need to know one seminal fact: Johnson is simply a better all-around player than McIlroy.

They drive it about the same, and both are excellent iron players. But Johnson is far and away a better wedge player and has surpassed McIlroy as a superior putter, especially in his green-reading, which McIlroy is left lacking. Johnson and his caddie, brother Austin, leave nothing to chance on the greens, and Dustin has reaped the benefits.

You might argue that Johnson is closer to the end of his career than to the beginning, but he still has plenty of time to add to his resume. Yes, Johnson is 36, but there is precedent in the form of Phil Mickelson, who was almost 34 when he won the 2004 Masters, his first major-championship title. Mickelson would win four more majors, including the 2010 Masters, two months shy of his 40th birthday.

Johnson said after his Masters victory that he plans to play about 10 more years on the PGA Tour. Now that he has broken through at Augusta National, which is built for Johnson’s strengths, don’t be surprised if more majors come his way, and soon. In fact, Johnson already has been installed as the favorite for the next Masters. It’s only five months away.

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