Even with three straight wins, DJ avoiding pre-Masters panic button

AUSTIN, Texas -- Golf isn't easy. We know this much. It's a theory that has been tested over and over again on courses around the world for a few centuries now, yielding the same results every time: Getting that little white ball into that little hole in the ground from hundreds of yards away is way tougher than it even sounds.

Anyone who has even just once played 18 holes on a weekend afternoon at the local muni understands this concept. Anyone who has struggled to hit the perfect shot at any given moment knows the endless frustrations with this game.

If you've never tried, though, if you've never picked up a club, gripped it and tried to hit the ball flush on the sweet spot, you can be excused for turning on the television, watching Dustin Johnson ply his craft and thinking to yourself, Well, that doesn't look so tough ...

Johnson is the rare golfer, the one-in-a-few-million kind of guy, who makes it look easy. He is the prototypical see-ball, hit-ball type of player. He stalks the fairways with a nonchalance usually reserved for strolls in a park. He sighs after birdies, shrugs after bogeys and barely pumps his fist when he wins a tournament.

Case in point: On Sunday, after clinching a victory in his third straight PGA Tour start by defeating Jon Rahm in the final of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship, Johnson stood on the 18th green and celebrated with all the fervor of someone whose number was just called at the deli line.

Even Johnson admits that the game can feel easy to him at times.

"Some days it does," he said. "About 95 percent of the days, it does not. But some days, yeah, it's easier. I feel like when you're rolling in putts, that's when the game gets pretty easy."

These are the words of a player who went 112 holes this week and never trailed. A player who competed against seven world-class opponents and, one by one, watched them retreat like he was playing a five-day-long game of Whack-A-Mole.

There was Webb Simpson, whom he beat 5-and-3. There was Martin Kaymer, 3-and-2. Jimmy Walker, 5-and-3. Zach Johnson, 5-and-4. Alex Noren, 3-and-2. Hideto Tanihara, 1-up.

And it looked easy against Rahm, too, at least on the front nine, when Johnson raced out to a 5-up lead before, finally, making golf look a little difficult down the stretch.

That doesn't happen for him too often, especially not lately.

Johnson has now won the Genesis Open, WGC-Mexico Championship and WGC-Match Play in consecutive starts, the last of which allowed him to become the first holder of the career WGC Grand Slam, having won each of the events that now serve as these championships.

"Man, I mean, what's to say?" Rahm wondered after their match. "It's amazing how he's able to keep cool the entire round. It amazes me. And he's just a perfect, complete player. Honestly, he doesn't really make mistakes. I think he's learned from what he's done in the past and he's embracing it now and that's why he's winning tournaments."

Johnson will now extend his margin as the world's No. 1-ranked player. More importantly, after a pit stop at the Shell Houston Open this week, he'll enter the following week's Masters Tournament as the prohibitive favorite for the first time in his career.

If you think any of that might leave him a bit nervous or anxious going into the year's first major, you haven't been paying attention.

When asked if he feels any differently after a month of being No. 1, he said, "No, it's still just a ranking." When asked whether he likes being the favorite for the Masters, he said, "I don't care."

Those answers could be construed as elusive rhetoric from any other player, but in Johnson's case, it's just the plain truth.

Just as he never celebrates a birdie or bemoans a bogey, the game's top-ranked player keeps an even keel from the omnipresent hype machine that surrounds players of his caliber.

It's a bit of refreshing honesty that could be misunderstood as cocky, but is masked as just cool confidence.

After he'd won on Sunday, after he'd disposed of those seven opponents and claimed that third straight title, Johnson was asked whether he's unbeatable when he's at his best.

He paused for a few seconds and pondered the idea.

Then he said, "If I'm playing my best, yeah, I'll play against anybody, anytime."

It goes against everything we've ever learned about this game. After all, golf isn't easy. He's just been making it look that way lately.