Johnson The Star
JOHNSON THE STAR OF THE SHOW
Contributor: Doug Ferguson
As much of a sideshow as DeChambeau became, Dustin Johnson became the star of the show. His year began with no small measure of uncertainty based on how the previous year had ended, with eight consecutive tournaments and nothing better than a tie for 20th to show for it. He was last against the 30-man field at the Tour Championship. And then he had knee surgery to repair cartilage and didn’t play until the Presidents Cup, where he went an uninspiring 2-2. He had one reasonably good showing in the Saudi International. And then the pandemic hit and Johnson was on the verge of being overlooked. He returned at the Charles Schwab Challenge and missed the cut. That seems so long ago.
His victory in the Travelers Championship meant he had won at least one PGA Tour event in all but one of his 12 years as a pro. But right when it looked as though he was on his way back, Johnson turned in a pair of 80s at the Memorial and withdrew from the next event after a 78 and complaints of soreness in his back. It bore notice because as good as Johnson is, his consistency is always what made him great. His career was starting to become more about what went wrong than what went right, and the narrative went to another level when he took a one-shot lead into the final round of the PGA Championship at Harding Park and finished two shots behind. It was his second straight year as a runner-up in the PGA Championship. He already had achieved the Grand Slam of silver medals having finished second in all the majors. It was his third runner-up finish in the last five majors. That doesn’t include the mishaps such as a three-putt par from 12 feet in the 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay to go from a putt to win to a par and a second-place finish, or the time he grounded his club in sand without realising it was a bunker in the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, costing him a spot in the playoff.
For so much misfortune, no other player of his generation allows it to roll off him so phlegmatically. “I’ve done a good job taking the punches and keep right on rolling,” he said. This roll was among his best. The sting of the PGA Championship still fresh, he won by 11 shots and became only the third player in PGA Tour history to finish 30 under or lower over 72 holes when he destroyed the field at The Northern Trust to start the tour’s FedEx Cup postseason. A week later, he had a tie for the lead going into the last round and came to the final hole needing a birdie to force a playoff with Jon Rahm. Johnson faced a 45-foot birdie putt he had to aim across the green and down a ridge to the hole. He hit it perfectly, and gave a slow, windmill fist pump when it fell. That’s a lot of emotion for him. Just his luck, Rahm made a similar putt from just outside 65 feet in the playoff to win the BMW Championship at Olympia Fields outside Chicago. From blessing to curse, as only can happen to Johnson.
The FedEx Cup is often seen as a cash giveaway by the golfing public, now $15 million to the winner. Johnson simply wanted his name on the trophy because of the players who have achieved it already — Woods twice, Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy twice, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas. Before the pandemic, he had planned to skip the Tokyo Olympics so he wouldn’t be overly tired when he reached the FedEx Cup playoffs. He had the advantage of starting with a two-shot lead at 10 under par as the number one seed and he kept his nose in front the entire way to win. Xander Schauffele had the lowest score and was rewarded with first-place ranking points. The official tally by the tour was Johnson at 21 under (including the 10-under start) for a three-shot victory. It would have been reason for him to take the money (and the trophy) and run to south Florida to spend time on his boat.
Except that this year, he still had two majors ahead of him. One of them, the US Open, fell to DeChambeau. Johnson was gearing up for the Masters when he flew to Las Vegas and tested positive for the coronavirus, costing him starts at the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek and the Zozo Championship at Sherwood, where he is a member when he’s in California. That proved to be a detour. The consolation prize was not having to be tested for Covid-19 for 90 days. The bonus was that it did nothing to slow his momentum.
Most telling about his five-shot victory in the Masters was that Johnson became the first Masters champion to earn three crystal vases awarded to the low round of the day.That spoke to his dominance — a 65 in the first and third rounds, a 68 in the closing round. He also showed how much it meant by not saying anything at all. It wasn’t by choice. He simply couldn’t get the words out of his mouth during his interview on the putting green. Much of that was location. He grew up in South Carolina and the Masters is the major any golfer from the South wants to win. A big part was redemption. Johnson knew he should have won more majors by now. He was aware the golf world was starting to doubt his ability to close out the big ones. He answered a lot of questions that day and restored himself as the best in golf.
Johnson returned to number one in the world with his victory at the TPC Boston in The Northern Trust. By the end of the year, his gap at number one was the largest since it belonged to McIlroy at the end of 2014. Johnson also had the distinction of having been number one longer than anyone except Tiger Woods and Greg Norman since the ranking began in 1986. Finally, it was time to relax on his boat. He was a happy man. “Masters champion Dustin Johnson. It’s got a nice ring to it,” he said.