Johnson's HSBC collapse surprising, but not major
Golf Channel | 6 months ago

In assessing his chances heading into the final round of the WGC-HSBC Champions, one in which he trailed by eight shots and Dustin Johnson was six shots clear of his closest competitor, Justin Rose accurately summed up the situation.

"Playing for second, barring something crazy from him," Rose told reporters. "But that's always the thing, you play for second and see what happens."

The latter half of that statement is a window into a veteran's mindset, a player who has seen nearly everything happen on the course and knows to keep even the slightest shred of hope alive - just in case.

But make no mistake, if tournament organizers had attempted to hand the trophy to Johnson prior to the final round, the other names on the leaderboard would have barely protested. The world No. 1 was in the midst of a clinic, piling up 22 birdies through 54 holes on a course where he has won before and one that favors his bomb-and-wedge approach.

This was Johnson mopping up against a WGC field, just as he had five times prior including twice earlier this year.

But then the unthinkable happened, as Johnson opened with a pair of bogeys to give the field a glimmer of optimism. He failed to right the ship from there, incomprehensibly recording zero birdies on a course that had played like a par-68 for him through the first three rounds. An even-par effort would have resulted in a three-shot win, but instead he signed for 5-over 77 as Rose raced from behind to steal the trophy.

"I mean, I felt fine all day," Johnson said. "I just could never get anything going and didn't hole any putts. It was pretty simple."

WGC-HSBC Champions: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the WGC-HSBC Champions

Very quickly comparisons were drawn to Greg Norman, the only other world No. 1 to cough up a six-shot lead in the final round on the PGA Tour. That, of course, was at the 1996 Masters. And Johnson has had a few major collapses of his own, namely the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and the 72nd-hole debacles at Whistling Straits and Chambers Bay.

But to be clear, there was no major trophy at stake this week at Sheshan International Golf Club. In fact, this is the only one of the four WGC events for which there isn't a major championship on the immediate horizon.

The WGC label ensures a strong field, and it allows the Tour to bolster the strength of the capstone of its three-week residency in Asia. But it's also positioned at the tail end of a busy year, despite the Tour's efforts to insist that the calendar regenerates in October, so the predominant reaction to completing 72 holes in China this week was a sigh of relief. Finally, a substantive break is within reach for most players.

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