Johnson Tigeresque at Riviera

by Sal Johnson

Founder, Chief Data Officer, GOLFstats

E-mail me at:

We talk all the time about how awesome Tiger Woods was between 1999 and the fire hydrant in 2009. Back then Tiger was the complete player, not only with his astonishing power but the ability to hit a large number of greens and the effectiveness to make every putt inside of ten feet. In the course of the last decade we have seen individual weeks in which some person had the luck of having some pixie dust thrown on them and played a week or two like Superman but then come back to reality once the dust wore off.
With Dustin Johnson’s great play this week, we may have seen the best example of Tigersque since Woods won four events in 2013. In Johnson’s his first 62 holes at the Genesis Open, Johnson was unbeatable at 20 under par and had a nine-shot lead. For the 62 holes, Johnson only missed 14 greens but had the ability to get it up and down. Johnson was doing all this by overpowering Riviera and improving upon two of his weaknesses in the past, wedge shots in and putting. In 2015 Johnson was T-120th in putting inside ten feet. A perfect example of his weakness was when he three-putted from 12 feet to lose the U.S. Open. Yes, the green was crusty and fast but Johnson just wasn’t that good of a putter and for the year he missed 128 putts out of 997 in that ten-foot range. In 2016 things improved a bit, he ranked 93rd in putts inside ten feet as he was able to make more putts. In 2017 Johnson has made drastic improvements on that, ranking 18th in putts inside 10 feet as he is now 89.90% in this stat compared to being 87.16% in 2015. For the week at Riviera Johnson was 6th in the field on putts inside 10 feet, making 62 of 67 but in a way, this was misleading, since three of the five putts he missed happened in the final 8 holes on Sunday.

We now have to talk about an element that all good players have to possess and that is some degree luck. We know that Tiger had a lot of luck behind him, especially the way he won several tournaments with some last minute heroics. Dustin Johnson is also showing off some of that, and the first thing was the luck of the draw. For the second week in a row (it happened big time at Pebble) the timing and location of your draw gave you a big advantage. The tournament was very lucky to have finished just two hours late on Sunday because at the start of the first day the signs showed this event would never finish on time. A major storm was to roll in on Thursday afternoon that would drop between 3 and 6 inches of rain in a 48-hour time frame. So for those that played on Thursday morning, they had cold, cloudy skies with no rain and very little wind. The scoring average for those players was 70.56. On Thursday afternoon, the winds picked up so for those players the scoring average was 71.43, almost a shot harder. But this was supposed to level out as they would have early morning times on Friday, thus easier conditions. But the storm moved in on Friday morning with windy conditions of gusts up to 35 MPH and the average wind being 17 MPH. On top of that, the weather grew worst and most of the players experienced some form of rain. The weather got so bad that it was postponed until Saturday and even though conditions were much better after three inches of rain between Friday morning and Saturday morning, the scoring average for these players was 72.86. Meanwhile, those players that had their Friday afternoon rounds postponed until Saturday morning were lucky. They had wet, pristine conditions with no wind and had a scoring average of 70.47, almost two and a half shots easier for a total of 70.52 two-day average compared to a 72.15 average thus giving them a three shot advantage. So it’s not surprising that eight of the top-ten players from the Genesis Open played in the early/late time shift and that included Dustin Johnson.

So it was not surprising at the end of the week to see Johnson dominate so many stat categories. He was 1st in Strokes gained off the tee, Strokes gained total, was the longest hitter for the week at 300.6 yards per drive on all the driving holes. Johnson also led Greens in Regulation hitting 56 of 72 greens. On the greens he was the leader in making the most putts from inside six feet, making 56 of 57 putts. He was T-1st in number of birdies with 21, but what I find an amazing stat he was the best on the par 4s, playing them in 8 under, the closest to him was 4 under. For the week he only made 4 bogeys, with three of them coming in his last ten holes on Sunday. Some other stats that he didn’t lead in but were impressive, he was 2nd in Strokes gained tee-to-green and 3rd in Strokes gained putting. For the week he missed 25 fairways, but from off the fairway was 3rd in rough proximity, getting the ball 34 feet, 11 inches away. Johnson was T-5th in scrambling and 3rd in average distance putts made as he had 373 feet, 3 inches of putts which shows how much Johnson has worked on making a weakness a strength.

So what does all this mean?
That Johnson will be the favorite at Augusta National. Realistically in my mind, it will be Jordan Spieth because of his great putting, but if Johnson can put on a half decent putting display at the Masters, he could easily win it. Johnson was T-4th last year and T-6th in 2015. One thing if Johnson can play the par 5s in 14 under like he did in 2015 he may be unbeatable.
Justin Rose, Adam Scott and Jimmy Walker all played well at Riviera so these may be players to watch. A bit worried over Jason Day, he has struggled on the west coast swing, so the upcoming weeks will be important. He’s taking the week off at the Honda, so hopefully, we will see some progress at the WGC-Mexico event. One person I am really worried about is Bubba Watson, who after winning the Genesis last year finished 2nd at Doral. Since then he hasn’t been in contention and since finishing T-6th last December in the Hero World Challenge. Johnson finished T-25th at the SBS T of Champions (out of a field of 32), missed the cut at Phoenix and withdrew from the Genesis so his game is not in very good shape right now.


  1. Excellent Sal. As Always.

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