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Dustin Johnson took drama out of Masters with dominating win

Reflections on a November Masters, which featured one of the most dominating performances in a major championship in recent memory by Dustin Johnson.

The No. 1 player in the world is so nonchalant about his best shots and his worst shots that it’s easy to overlook how good he is at every aspect of the game. He’s long and generally straight off the tee, a great iron player, one of the best all-time wedge players and an excellent putter. Top that off with the even-keel attitude, and it’s no surprise he’s won 24 times on the PGA Tour.

Consider his feats at Augusta last week:

— Shot or shared low score in the first, third and fourth rounds, becoming the first player in Masters history to record two rounds of 65 or lower twice in the same tournament.

— Broke the tournament scoring record at 20-under 268.

— Had the fewest bogeys in tournament history — four — for the entire week.

— Has shot 12 consecutive rounds under par at Augusta, breaking the previous record.

— Won an event for the 14th consecutive season on the PGA Tour, a number topped only by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, who both had streaks of 17 seasons.

Did Johnson benefit from the November weather? Certainly everyone was helped by the Thursday morning rain that kept the course soft in the early rounds and the greens slower than usual on the weekend. But everyone got that advantage, and nobody came close to Johnson.

The most striking thing about his win was the complete lack of drama from early Saturday on. There never seemed to be a doubt Johnson was in control and destined to put on the green jacket.

At a quick glance, it might have seemed as if there was competition among the elite players for the title. Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm and Patrick Reed posted top-10 finishes, but by midday Saturday, none threatened for the lead.

McIlroy is the most interesting player on this list. He got off to a rocky start with an opening-round 75, then played the final three rounds in 14 under. It’s been a pattern at Augusta for McIlroy, who needs the Masters to complete a career grand slam, playing tight and under pressure early and then letting loose and great once he’s too far back to win.

“I don’t feel like I put a lot of pressure on myself that week,” McIlroy said last month in Las Vegas. “I think that’s perceived from the outside. Obviously having a really good chance to win back in 2011 and not being able to win the tournament since then, and a lot of people say that the course is suited to my game and all that stuff.”

But yet again, it was a difficult start that did McIlroy in.

That was also true for Las Vegas resident Kevin Na, who played quite well and tied for 13th at 8 under. But that first round was one to forget.

The good? He became the first player in 11 years to hit every green in regulation in a round at the Masters.

The bad? He became the first player in Masters history to hit every green in regulation and shoot over par — a 73. The culprit was his normally reliable putter. Fifteen two-putts and three three-putts — 39 total — put him in the record book.

It was a tough pill to swallow for one of the tour’s best putters, especially with Na admitting the Masters is probably his best opportunity to win a major in his career.

“I feel like the Masters I have the best chance at,” he said last month. “The way it sets up, there is no rough. You have to be a great chipper and putter of the ball, and I am.”

Just not on Thursday.

One final thought: The most noticeable difference this year was the lack of spectators at the course. There were no roars, leaving players to perform in quiet and isolation. That might be the reason Cameron Smith and Sungjae Im were the only players able to hang with Johnson on the weekend.

Im is 22 and played Augusta for the first time. Smith became the first player in Masters history to record all four rounds in the 60s, yet even that wasn’t good enough to catch Johnson.

The best player in the world showed why he holds that title. And in 20 short weeks, he’ll get the opportunity to defend at Augusta.

Greg Robertson is a freelance reporter who covers golf for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at robertsongt@gmail.com.

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