Dustin Johnson holed his three-foot putt on the 18th green of Austin Country Club and lightly fist pumped. He looked relieved.
Yes, he had just claimed the Dell Technologies Match Play title.
And yes, he won his third tournament in as many tries, raising his total to 15 career PGA Tour victories.
But the victory did not come easy for the No. 1 golfer in the world.
After breezing through the field the first four days of the tournament, the waters were a little choppier for Johnson on Sunday. Both of his matches — the morning session versus Hideto Tanihara and the afternoon session against Jon Rahm — came down to the 18th hole.
Johnson raced out to a 3 up lead through seven holes in the morning against Tanihara. But the pesky Cinderella story from Japan would not go away. The score evened after a Tanihara birdie on the 14th hole — the first time
Johnson had been tied with a competitor all week other than standing on the first tee box.
But Johnson is the No. 1 player in the world for a reason.
He birdied the 17th hole to regain the lead. Then he converted a gutsy up-and-down from short of the green on the 18th to secure his place in the finals.
“It was a tough match,” Johnson said. “I felt like I played really well … I mean I hit great putts, just nothing would go in.”
His finals opponent, 22-year-old Rahm, boldly claimed he wanted a shot to play Johnson in the championship match.
“Well, I want to play who is playing the best right now,” Rahm said before the final. “Honestly it would be great to play DJ.”
Through eight holes, the Spaniard looked as though he was regretting those words. Johnson won five of the first eight holes to take a big lead. But Rahm didn’t go
Rahm slowly chipped away at Johnson’s lead on the final 10 holes. The turning point came on the 13th hole, where Rahm drove the green and two-putted for birdie.
“That’s when the emotions got back to a normal level and I was able to play good golf,” Rahm said.
A birdie on the 15th brought Rahm within striking distance before he sank a 31–foot putt on the next hole to bring him within one of Johnson’s lead. That sent shock waves through Austin Country Club.
The usually calm Johnson admitted that his pulse got going a bit after the hole, but he was able to “hang in there.”
The two competitors matched pars on the final two holes to secure the victory for Johnson — his sixth victory in 10 months. But the scariest part for his counterparts on the Tour is that Johnson doesn’t even feel like he has played his best golf yet.
“I’m playing really well, don’t get me wrong,” Johnson said. “If I’m playing my best, yeah, I’ll play against anybody, anytime.”