There would be no miracle shots or putts this time to deny Dustin Johnson. He simply wouldn’t let that happen with his own sublime play.
Starting America’s Labour Day Monday with a commanding five-shot lead in the Tour Championship, the coolest guy in the game faced some back-nine pressure in the final round at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele both pressed the world’s No.1 player by closing his lead to just two shots.
But Johnson responded as he’s done so many times in winning 22 previous PGA Tour events. After he drained a 21-foot putt to save par on the 13th hole, Johnson sauntered to four pars and a birdie the rest of the way to capture his first Tour Championship and the $US15 million FedEx Cup Playoffs prize that goes with it.
The 36-year-old Johnson, who forged his big lead with an equal tournament-best 64 in the third round, closed with a two-under-par 68 and finished at 21-under to beat Thomas (66) and Schauffele (66) by three shots. Schauffele had a birdie putt on 18 that was worth $US500,000 more if he finished alone in the No.2 FedEx Cup spot, but he missed and shared second with Thomas. They each won $US4.5 million.
“I wanted to be a FedEx Cup champion,” Johnson said immediately afterward. “It’s something in my career I’d like to be, and obviously today I got the FedEx Cup. Very prouid of the way I played. I’ve played really good golf over the past four tournaments.”
Johnson, who struggled for a couple of weeks with a back injury in July – including shooting back-to-back 80s at the Memorial – after he won the Travelers Championship, was the runaway star of the playoffs. After tying for second in the PGA Championship, he blew away the field by 11 shots by shooting 30-under in the first postseason event, the Northern Trust. He was in position to take last week’s BMW Championship, but Jon Rahm beat him by draining a 66-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole.
Today, Johnson didn’t make a birdie between the seventh and 17th hole – after he birdied three of the first six. He suffered back-to-back bogeys at holes seven and eight. But from there he didn’t find much trouble, and when was in the trees after his drive at 13 and couldn’t reach the green, he made the huge up-and-down for par.
Schauffele, who won the 2017 Tour Championship, applied some pressure when he made birdies at 12 and 16 to get to within two, but he pulled his next two tee shots left – into a fairway bunker at 17 and the rough at 18 – to not have a realistic change to make birdie.
Thomas, who won the 2017 FedEx Cup championship and now has three top-three finishes in the playoffs in the past four years, birdied the 16th to get to within two. But he bogeyed the 17th before birdieing the 18th.
The only two Australians in the field – Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman – finished equal 24th and 29th, respectively.