DJ 'can play better', Catlin evokes Tiger feat: golf talking points

Hong Kong (AFP)

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The US PGA Tour's season-ending Tour Championship and Dustin Johnson have grabbed the headlines, but an unsung young American who earned his stripes in Asia has been marking a mark in Europe.

AFP Sport looks at this week's talking points in golf:

- Major ambition -

Dustin Johnson's FedEx Cup victory on Monday cemented his status as one of the finest players of the modern era, but many believe the world number one will not be regarded as one of the game's greats until he wins more majors.

Four-time major champion Brooks Koepka stoked the debate at last month's US PGA Championship after predicting that third-round leader "DJ" Johnson could struggle to close out a second major title.

"A lot of the guys on the leaderboard, I don't think have won (a major). I guess DJ has only won one," Koepka said.

Johnson finished two strokes behind Collin Morikawa, the fifth time he had been runner-up in one of the big four.

But Koepka's jibe might have lit a fire under the usually laid-back Johnson.

The last three weeks has seen Johnson steamroller an elite field to win the Northern Trust by 11 strokes at 30-under par, the second lowest total in tour history.

Seven days later he finished second at the BMW Championship, but only because Jon Rahm sank a 66-foot monster putt in a playoff.

Now he is back in the winner's circle for the third time since the tour resumed in June, $15 million richer.

"Obviously I'm playing very well now," Johnson said, before adding ominously. "I feel like I can play better, though."

With the US Open at Winged Foot 10 days away and six majors to come in the next 10 months, red-hot Johnson is going to have lots of chances to improve his major record.

- Come dine with me -

American John Catlin said the experience of winning on the Asian Tour enabled him to hold off Martin Kaymer for his maiden European Tour victory at the Valderrama Masters at the weekend.

Catlin's first career wins were in second-tier Asian Development Tour events in 2016 and 2017. He went on to win four times on the Asian Tour proper, the most recent at last November's Thailand Open.

"My past experience was very helpful in that regard," said Catlin after resisting the charge of the double major champion and former world number one in Spain. "I knew I had done it before."

Catlin, who played four events before the 2020 Asian Tour season was brought to halt in March by coronavirus, had enjoyed only limited playing rights on the European Tour.

But that all changed on Sunday and he now has full membership after a victory that capped a topsy-turvy six weeks.

Catlin was disqualified from the English Championship last month for violating the European Tour bio-secure bubble by going out for a meal with his caddie.

Now he can dine out on the fact that he is the first American to win at Valderrama since Tiger Woods at the World Golf Championship in 1999.

- Money, money, money -

Johnson's victory capped a successful 13 weeks since the PGA Tour became one of the first major sports tours to return to action after the coronavirus shutdown.

Perhaps the most naturally socially distanced sport, golf has led the way in Covid-challenged times.

But the $45 million prize fund on offer for the 30 players contesting the Tour Championship in Atlanta, while the world is struggling through a pandemic, has raised eyebrows.

Outside the PGA Tour, pickings are very slim. The European Tour has had to trim purses since resuming. And on the still-suspended Asian Tour some professionals are struggling to make ends meet after no golf for six months.

While Johnson was taking his on-course earnings to more than $20 million since June alone, the Asian Tour Order of Merit leader Wade Ormsby bumped up his entire year's earnings to $248,000 with $10,000 for tied 31st at Valderrama.

The Australian's win at January's Hong Kong Open accounted for $180,000 of that. By contrast, Billy Horschel won $395,000 for finishing last at East Lake.

- World rankings -

Golf's top 10 players, updated September 8, 2020:

Men

1. Dustin Johnson (USA) 10.28

2. Jon Rahm (ESP) 9.97

3. Justin Thomas (USA) 8.63

4. Rory McIlroy (NIR) 7.90

5. Collin Morikawa (USA) 7.72

6. Webb Simpson (USA) 7.04

7. Xander Schauffele 6.40 (+4)

8. Brooks Koepka (USA) 6.10 (-1)

9. Bryson DeChambeau (USA) 5.99 (-1)

10. Patrick Reed (USA) 5.86 (-1)

Women

1. Ko Jin-young (KOR) 7.97

2. Danielle Kang (USA) 6.28

3. Nelly Korda (USA) 5.67

4. Park Sung-hyun (KOR) 5.57

5. Minjee Lee (AUS) 5.24

6. Kim Sei-young (KOR) 5.19

7. Nasa Hataoka (JPN) 4.94

8. Park In-bee (KOR) 4.88

9. Brooke Henderson (CAN) 4.65

10. Kim Hyo-joo (KOR) 4.48