Dustin Johnson won his seventh-career PGA Tour title on Tuesday.
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Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The last time a golfer won anything on a Tuesday, he guaranteed himself four more years in the White House. By winning the weather-delayed Hyundai Tournament of Champions, Dustin Johnson earned something else. He will now be mentioned as one of the more intriguing challengers to top-ranked Rory McIlroy.

Consider: Johnson has matched Tiger Woods by winning in each of his first six seasons out of college. Consider: Johnson, who at 28 already has seven Tour wins, and who now takes his game to this week's Sony Open in Hawaii, has wise, old vets like Steve Stricker raving about not only his length but also his soft hands.

"I think he's got a tremendous amount of touch," said Stricker, who played with Johnson and finished second at Kapalua. "He goes through that ball with a lot of speed with the big clubs. But when he gets a wedge or something in his hand, he's got a lot of touch and feel. And he does those little wedge shots very nicely."

The final ingredient for Johnson will be to win a major, but for now, at the Sony, he can at least begin to establish himself as a consistent threat to win. The smallish, 7,044-yard, par-70 Waialae C.C. would not seem to be his type of course, especially given that Johnson was last in fairways hit at Kapalua (51.1 percent). Still, the powerful if erratic hitter has done well at tighter, shorter Waialae; Johnson finished T16 and T10 in his last two Sony starts, in 2010 and '08, respectively.

"I like that golf course," he said. "I've played well there the couple times I've played it. It's a golf course that fits my eye pretty well. Here I hit driver on every hole; and there, I really don't hit many drivers."

Johnson - who was followed by the comely Paulina Gretzky at Kapalua - will be one of many intriguing stories at the Sony, the first full-field tournament of 2013. All 25 newly minted graduates of the Web.com tour will be in action at Waialae, including young, promising two-time winners in 2012 like Luke Guthrie, 22; Ben Kohles, 22; and Russell Henley, 23. Is there a Keegan Bradley somewhere in this group? The answer is most likely yes.

Bradley himself is in the Sony field, as is Webb Simpson. Both will simply island-hop over to Oahu and Honolulu, hoping for better weather. Among the others to keep an eye on are Charles Howell III, who has done everything but win the Sony (including a runner-up finish last year); and Carl Pettersson, who tied for second at the 2012 Sony and finished eighth at Kapalua on Tuesday.

Also, watch out for Bud Cauley and Brian Harman, two guys with a whole lot of game who haven't won on Tour yet but who almost certainly will.

Johnson Wagner is the defending champion.

Europe: Retief Goosen returns at the limited-field Volvo Golf Champions in Durban, South Africa, after a five-month recovery from back surgery. Branden Grace beat him in a playoff at Durban Country Club last year. Others in the field include 2012 Open champion Ernie Els and Masters runner-up Louis Oosthuizen.

The Euro tour heads to Abu Dhabi next week - the deal between Rory McIlroy and Nike is expected to be announced shortly before McIlroy makes his 2013 debut - followed by Qatar and Dubai before going back to South Africa.

They Said It: Padraig Harrington, at the Volvo Golf Champions in Durban, on McIlroy's quandary over whether to play for Great Britain or Ireland in the 2016 Olympics: "No sportsman should have to make that decision. That's it, straightforward - nobody at 23 years of age should be asked to make that decision. And the reality is, there's been people in politics for the last hundred years have tried to negotiate that and haven't been able to negotiate it. So why would you ask a 23 year old just because he's going to hit a little white golf ball?"

Short Game: Fred Funk, 56, and Russ Cochran, 54, will play in this week's Sony Open while awaiting the start of the Champions tour at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai next week. Cochran qualified for the Sony with a 67 at Turtle Bay's Palmer Course on Monday. ... Kyle Stanley, who was mired in a slump for much of the second half of 2012, and who just signed a contract with Nike, shot 78-80 in his first two rounds at the Hyundai TOC. ... The Hyundai finish marked the first Tuesday finish on Tour since Ben Curtis won the 2006 Booz Allen Classic, which has since been discontinued. ... Phil Mickelson owns the Tour's longest active winning streak, with at least a victory a year since 2004, giving him nine straight. Dustin Johnson is second with six straight, having won at least once each year since 2008. They have combined to win five of the last six 54-hole tournaments on Tour: 2013 Hyundai, '11 Barclays, '09 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am (all won by Johnson); and the '05 and 2000 BellSouth (Mickelson).

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