What we learned from the Desert Swing: Dominant Dustin Johnson and sorry Sergio Garcia

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Dustin Johnson become the inaugural winner of the Saudi International on Sunday. (AFP)
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Updated 04 February 2019
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What we learned from the Desert Swing: Dominant Dustin Johnson and sorry Sergio Garcia

  • American ace DJ underlines why he could be the man to beat this year.
  • European Tour show lack of backbone after Garcia tantrum.

LONDON: So the Desert Swing is over for another year. This year saw a new tournament in town, the Saudi International completing the trio of Middle-East based battles. Here is what we learned after all birdies, bogeys and booming drives.

DUSTIN JOHNSON LAYS DOWN A MARKER

The American ace’s win at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club was his first for seven months and once again reminded us and his rivals, if any was needed, that when on song it takes some performance to stop him. Under pressure from the brilliant Haotong Li the world No. 3 did what all greats do when required — turned on his A-game and swatted away the challenge. Two birdies on 17 and 18 illustrated “DJ’s” class and nerveless pursuit of victory. Despite all the tour titles to his name, there is a sense that the 34-year-old has underachieved with only one Major victory. This win and the manner of it sets Johnson up for a successful stab at adding to his Major collection, starting with the Masters in April.



EUROPEAN TOUR ILLUSTRATES IT LACKS TEETH

Bar Johnson’s victory, the other talking point from the Saudi International was the disqualification of Sergio Garcia for damaging as many as five greens during a bad-tempered third round. The Spaniard apologized for his actions and said it will not happen again. Those words, however, should not have been the end of the matter. Garcia may be a big-name player but, rather than declare the matter “closed as Tour chief Keith Pelley did, the European Tour had to show that star status does not mean you can get away with anything. It was the time to show it has teeth and issue a meaningful fine and even a ­suspension from the Tour.



BRYSON DECHAMBEAU IS UNIQUE

The American won by a mammoth seven shots at the Dubai Desert Classic and illustrated why he is golf’s man of the moment. But his uniqueness is both refreshing and annoying. Known as the “scientist,” DeChambeau says he is leaving nothing to chance while out on the fairways and greens. Methodical and mesmerizing in equal measure the American can prove frustrating as well. In an age when golf is trying to speed up play to see the world No.5 take an age over many of his shots — he had a very lengthy discussion with his caddie on a fairly straightforward shot during the final round in Dubai — proved problematic, and not just for the fans. “I just don’t understand how it takes a minute and 20 seconds, a minute and 15 to hit a golf ball; it’s not that hard,” world No. 2 Brooks Koepka said.



TIME FOR SHANE LOWRY AND TOM LEWIS TO SHINE

The Desert Swing shone a light on two golfers who have struggled over the past few years — Shane Lowry and Tom Lewis. Lowry was brilliant in winning in Abu Dhabi, following that up with a top-15 finish in Dubai. He is now back in the world’s top 50, which is where someone of his talent should be. Lewis has had a rough few years, unable to transfer his precocious talent to the professional circuit. Victory in last year’s Portugal Masters was followed up with a top-10 finish in the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai in November, and that has been followed up with impressive form this year. Ninth in Abu Dhabi was bettered with a third-place finish at the Saudi International. This time last year he was languishing at 394th in the world rankings. He is now at 55 and close to an invite to the Masters.



HAOTONG LI STAR ON THE RISE

The 23-year-old had an impressive Desert Swing, underlining his status as China’s first major golfing star. He followed up the defense of his Dubai title — where he finished tied 12th — with runner-up spot at the Saudi International. With his best years well ahead of him, Haotong Li can really make a name for himself as he did over the past few weeks, not least with his remarkable third-round 62. That was sparked by four eagles, but most impressively, Li made three of those eagles on par 4s.

 


WHAT WE LEARNED: Dominant defences, sloppy City and simple Serie A

Updated 21 February 2019
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WHAT WE LEARNED: Dominant defences, sloppy City and simple Serie A

  • Defences dominated free-scoring attacks on Tuesday.
  • Juventus finding life far more tough in Europe than at home.

All the Champions League second round first-leg matches are done and dusted so what better time to look back at the latest clashes and reveal what we learned from the titanic tussles…

DEFENCE BACK IN VOGUE

Who would have predicted that Tuesday night’s two clashes would return the miserly total of zero goals? If you say yes, there is a good chance you are either lying or able to see into the future. Liverpool (minus Virgil van Djik), Bayern Munich and Barcelona are all much better going forward than trying to keep a cleansheet and goals were surely guaranteed. But in both matches — Liverpool at home to Bayern, and Barca away at Lyon — the backlines held firm and Bayern’s performance in particular illustrated a defensive discipline that has been deemed out of fashion the past few seasons. The fullbacks Joshua Kimmich and David Alaba rarely went beyond the halfway line and Mats Hummels was immense in the middle. Likewise the Reds without their defensive rock also looked resolute and solid with their makeshift backline. Over the past few years the top teams, especially in Europe, have generally thrown caution to the wind. Tuesday’s matches were a bit of a throwback, but no less entertaining or enthralling for it.

The disciplined performance of David Alaba typified Bayern's match at Liverpool. (AFP) 

JUVE FINDING SERIE TOO EASY?

The Turin club are once again strolling toward another domestic title. They are unbeaten and a mammoth 13 points ahead of second-placed Napoli, their eighth consecutive title is all but assured. In Europe, however, it is a different story as Wednesday’s 2-0 defeat at Atletico Madrid illustrated. Already this season they have lost three of their seven Champions League matches and on now face a huge task to overturn the deficit in Turin on March 12. In four full seasons at Juventus, Massimiliano Allegri has led his team to four successive league and cup doubles and two Champions League finals. But he was out-thought by Atletico counterpart Diego Simeone. Of the result the Juve boss simply said “these things happen” but added: ““They are more used playing games of this type than us” a tacit admission that the Spaniards face tougher games in La Liga than Juve do while strolling to wins week after week in Italy.

Ronaldo and Juve are coasting to yet another Serie A title but it's a different story in the Champions League. (AFP) 

CITY’S INCONSISTENCY CLEAR TO SEE

Before the turn of the year Manchester City lost in the Premier League to Crystal Palace and Leicester City and followed that up in January with a shock loss at Newcastle. For the first time in 18 months, domestically at least, you could no longer assume the Abu Dhabi-owned club would turn up, strut their stuff and claim an easy victory. In Europe so far this season they have only lost once in seven matches, on the face of it no problem. But the defeat at Lyon before the new year has been followed up with Wednesday’s last-gasp 3-2 win at Schalke, again, on the face of it OK, but worrying signs are there. The German outfit may lie 14th in the Bundesliga but for long periods looked more than a match for Pep Guardiola’s side — albeit one down to 10 men from the 69th minute. City could well win the second-leg in a similar manner to their 6-0 win over Chelsea in the league, but this match as much as anything will have perfectionist Guardiola worried. It was not for nothing that he said after the win: “we are still not ready to fight for the latter stages.”

City found the going tough against a resolute Schalke. (AFP)