Is Dustin Johnson the new Masters favorite — by a mile?

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Dustin Johnson (Photo by Getty Images)
GOLF WIRE

March 6, 2017

Every Sunday night, GOLF.com conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and GOLF Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com.

1. Well, that was fun. The World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship had quite the debut, with a star-studded leaderboard young and old, ridiculous hole-outs and a worthy champion in world No. 1 Dustin Johnson. What was your biggest takeaway from the week?

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): That I can’t wait to get back to Mexico City. This was the liveliest Tour event I can remember in a long time. The fans brought a great energy and Chapultepec was a very intriguing venue. Not to mention that another week in CDMX solidified it as one of my favorite cities on the planet.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: That’s great to hear, Alan. Having been there, what was the vibe you got from the players? How did the Americans feel about being south of the border? Were they talking about Trump? I followed it, as people used to say, in the papers, and was stunned by the lengths the players were hitting their shots, in the thin air.

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): The excitement Alan experienced in person translated beautifully on TV. Big crowds, crazy shots, stellar leaderboard. The single biggest takeaway is probably that DJ solidified what could turn into a long run atop the World Ranking. But this tournament was a home run all the way around.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF (@JoshSens): The new venue also got me thinking about the old venue, Trump Doral, which some players notably griped about, saying that it gave unreasonable advantage to bombers. No such complaints this week, yet a bomber still won. Sure, there are courses for certain horses. But here was another reminder that when a thoroughbred like DJ is at his best, there aren’t a lot of guys who can keep up. On any track.

Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF (@joepassov): The biggest takeaway was definitely DJ getting it done for the W, even as he resembled Rickie Fowler down the stretch at Honda, with so many inexplicably awful shots balanced by some incredible ones. And I’ll echo Josh here, and add some: Great to see some of the biggest bashers in the game — DJ, Rory, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm and Lefty, among others — think and maneuver their way around a super-tight golf course. For me, the course itself was refreshing, if horrible, but that doesn’t detract from the fantastic success the crowds and leaderboards would suggest.

2. With the Masters a month away, there’s no reason not to anoint Johnson as the favorite. Based on what you witnessed in Mexico City, who’s next in line to win the green jacket?

Shipnuck: I think this tournament offered more questions than answers. Rory had a chance for a statement win but his play was very flat on the weekend. Jordan had one stellar round and was mediocre the other three. Justin Thomas took a pretty big step backward. Phil showed a ton of heart but completely lost his swing on the weekend. Jason Day’s ongoing fragility kept him from even making the trip. Dustin is now the clear favorite but I’m not sure who’s next in line.

Bamberger: After Dustin, I’m going with Phil, Fred (Couples), Jordan Spieth, in that order. Phil, because he does rise to the occasion, he’s still long and he knows the course inside and out. Fred, because we’ve had so many young winners this year it seems logical that there should be some counter-balance to it all. Spieth, because he’s such a smart golfer and I think will correct whatever it was that went wrong last year on Sunday.

Ritter: DJ is the new favorite, but I felt great about Hideki a month ago and I’m not going to abandon him just yet. Also, in three trips to Augusta, Spieth has yet to finish outside the top two. Hard to imagine he isn’t in the mix once again.

Sens: Hard to argue against any of the above picks, but to range slightly outside the box, I’ll go with Jon Rahm, a top young talent who already has a win this year. It wouldn’t be a stretch to see him pick up at Augusta where his countrymen Seve and Olazabal left off some years ago.

Passov: I don’t know why DJ’s track record at Augusta is so poor, but the monkey is off his back, thanks to his U.S. Open win, and given his successes lately, he’s proved he can win anywhere. I still like Spieth because of his putting prowess, but I’d also like to see a healthy Jason Day back in action and see where his game is at.

3. We debated the rules changes being proposed by the USGA and the R&A a few days ago, but given the way officials were tested in Mexico City, talking about the rules never gets old. What do you consider the most head-scratching change?

Shipnuck: It’s only been a few days but I’m already bored of the topic. The only thing I find more stultifying is discussing slow-play. When there are strong new rules about slow play then I’ll start paying attention.

Bamberger: Well, the one-inch drop. It’s just so — can you still use this word? — unmanly.

Ritter: If a once-inch drop is wimpy, what do you call taking a drop out of any bunker for a two-shot penalty? It will clearly help slow-playing, sand-averse recreational players, but still, it doesn’t feel quite like golf.

Sens: Agreed, Jeff. The bunker rule seems lenient to the extreme. Let’s hope legalization of the foot wedge doesn’t follow. The pros certainly don’t need it, and for the rest of us, how about we just give it the old college try from the sand, and if we don’t get out in two hacks, pocket the ball and move on? Bad golf can still be played quickly. I do it all the time.

Passov: I think the “reasonable judgment will not be second-guessed” amendment will find many players who will take this to the extreme in big-money, big-time golf, leading to ill will among fellow competitors, and ultimately fans. The whole idea of golfers being such exemplary, self-policing sportsmen was so appealing–think Bobby Jones, who was commended for calling a penalty on himself for a violation only he saw, and who then scoffed, “You might as well have praised a man for not robbing a bank.” Now, I think there’s more incentive to fudge a little on your judgment. I never liked snitches who ratted out players by watching TV, but a little honesty by the player himself is one major trait that separated golf from the other sports.

Michelle Wie (Photo by Getty Images)

4. The HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore wasn’t without its drama. Michelle Wie, who entered the tournament ranked 179th in the world, took a two-shot lead into the final round, but Inbee Park walked off with the victory. Playing for only the second time in the last six months due to a thumb injury, Park ran off eight birdies in a 10-hole stretch to clip Ariya Jutanugarn by a shot. Which was the bigger surprise: Wie’s out-of-nowhere strong play, or Park’s victory?

Shipnuck: Well, you’re forgetting to mention that four-putt double-bogey early in the final round that pretty much ended Wie’s bid. Inbee Park is one of the greatest players of all time. When her putter turns molten like it did, anything is possible. It was nice to see Wie put together some solid play but her shaky final round doesn’t exactly qualify as a surprise.

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