OLD WESTBURY, NY_ Over the last few months world number one player Dustin Johnson had been pushed into the shadows as a younger push had come from the likes of Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Hideki Matsuyama. Some in the media were brash enough to suggest PGA Tour Player-of-the-Year honors would likely go to either of Johnson’s competitors. Even before the FedEx Cup Playoffs had been played.
That theory came to an abrupt halt on Long Island this past weekend as DJ overcame an early five stroke deficit to Spieth and played a bogey-free final round to win an exciting playoff over the Texan in snaring his fourth win this season and 16th on the PGA Tour. The golf music DJ had been playing earlier this year has now returned to the forefront in a big time manner.
The measurement of Johnson’s success came from areas in which he has shown a propensity to find difficulty — dexterity with wedge play and putting prowess. Both were in evidence on Sunday as DJ’s due diligence in elevating those respective areas to run concurrently with his awesome power play off the tee.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) August 27, 2017
The 33-year-old demonstrated a mental toughness that in the years past would likely not have surfaced. As Johnson and Spieth approached the 72nd hole — it was DJ who blinked first — hitting a wild tee shot finding dense rough on the right side. Instead of trying to power his ball out of an uncertain lie to a distant uphill green surrounded by bunkers, Johnson opted smartly to wedge out and leave himself roughly 100 yards to the green. Spieth’s approach from the fairway was not especially noteworthy leaving himself a long and hard breaking putt.
Johnson’s 3rd shot wedge was a blind play to a pin tucked in the far left corner of the green. His approach ended up 17-feet from the hole. After Spieth had played a uncanny approach putt to no more than two-feet away for par — the situation was clear for DJ. Either drop the putt or the music ends. DJ stepped up to the occasion sliding home the equalizer to keep the playoff going. The ensuing emotional fist pump into the air from DJ when the putt dropped proved the often laconic non-emotional golfer was not going to go down gently.
At the first playoff hole — the 18th — Johnson showed his herculean firepower flying his tee shot over the dog-left hole protected by water and leaving himself roughly the same distance he had for his 3rd shot at the same hole just moments before. With Spieth safely on the green with 20+ feet for birdie — Johnson’s wedge dexterity came to the forefront with an approach to three feet. Spieth would miss his birdie putt and Johnson would quickly end matters with a winning birdie.
For DJ the win marked his fourth FedEx Cup Playoff triumph to go along with his 5 World Golf Championship titles. Since his debacle at the 2010 US Open when he limped home with a closing 82 at Pebble Beach and forfeited a three-shot edge going into the final round the biggest question facing Johnson was could he harness a complete game — one going beyond his supreme distance skills.
In the intervening years DJ has devoted considerable time and effort in bolstering an area of his game that had failed to deliver the results one would normally expect to work in tandem with his driving skills. At The Northern Trust, Dustin showed clearly he is fully capable in hitting quality shots from any club in his bag.
Winning over Spieth signaled a clear statement that any discussion of end of season honors is still an open question with three key events yet to be contested in the FexEx Cup Playoffs.
— Ryan Burr (@RyanBurr) August 27, 2017
Johnson’s PGA Tour season looked especially bright when he won three times prior to this Master’s. The native South Carolinian was the overwhelming favorite until slipping down stairs in his rented room the day prior to the start of the event. What looked especially promising for his first green jacket eventually meant a withdrawal just prior to his first round tee time. Until his re-emergence this past week — Johnson’s game was slowly re-emerging himself back into form.
The fourth win at Glen Oaks is especially noteworthy coming against the likes of Spieth. With wins at The Traveler’s and his triumph at The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale it appeared the 24-year-old was going to once again push himself to the top of the world rankings. That pathway has now encountered stiff resistance with Johnson showing a side to his game many had questioned if he was capable in rounding out his considerable skills.
There’s still plenty of music to be played before this year’s golf season concludes but it’s now clear the records being spun will be heavily influenced by a DJ more determined than ever to maintain control of the dance floor.