Johnson defeats Spieth in epic Playoff
August 27, 2017
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
Dustin Johnson wins in a playoff at THE NORTHERN TRUST
OLD WESTBURY, N.Y. – Eighteen hours earlier and 2,500 miles away, a boxing match took place that you might have heard about. Perhaps even shelled out $100 to watch.
As it turns out, the most entertaining showdown this weekend took place Sunday afternoon at THE NORTHERN TRUST between two of golf’s biggest heavyweights. Dustin Johnson eventually delivered the knockout blow – in actuality, it was a ridiculous 341-yard tee shot that helped set up his decisive birdie – to subdue 54-hole leader Jordan Spieth in a sudden-death playoff and win the opening leg of the FedExCup Playoffs.
It was fun for the fans at Glen Oaks, hosting its first-ever PGA TOUR event.
It was certainly fun for the two combatants.
“A fun show to be a part of,” said Spieth, who let a five-shot lead after five holes Sunday slip through his hands. “I was hoping it wasn’t going to be that much fun.”
“We were having fun,” added Johnson, the new FedExCup leader. “Obviously I had a little bit more fun at the end of the day after I won the playoff.”
Spieth had entered the final round leading Johnson by three shots, the two separating themselves from the field. While others – namely Jon Rahm and Jhonattan Vegas – tried to get into the mix, Sunday eventually turned into a duel between the world’s 1st- and 3rd-ranked players in the final pairing.
After Spieth extended the lead with two birdies, a runaway victory was looming. But he gave Johnson an opening with a double bogey at the sixth. A 7-foot birdie putt for DJ and a missed 5-footer for par by Spieth knocked the lead down to a shot.
“We’ve got ourselves a golf tournament,” a fan cried out.
Indeed. When Johnson rolled in a 10-foot birdie putt at the 10th, the two were tied with eight holes left. The fans ate it up.
They both birdied the par-5 13th, Johnson missing his eagle putt from 13 feet. Spieth grabbed the lead at the par-4 14th when he knocked his approach to 8 feet. Johnson answered on the next hole from 17-1/2 feet. Tied again.
As the two players walked up the 16th fairway, another fan blurted out, “What a show! Boy, what a show!”
It got even better at the par-3 17th. DJ found the right-side bunker with his tee shot. Spieth needed simply to find the green for the advantage, but he left the face of his 6-iron open when he tried to mash it. He landed next to Johnson.
Spieth’s shot rolled 19 feet past the pin; Johnson blasted out to 4 feet. Just when it looked like DJ would take the lead, Spieth curled in his par putt from the left side.
Now it was down to the dogleg-left 467-yard 18th in regulation. Spieth’s drive found the fairway; Johnson, meanwhile, feeling the wind in his face, opted to avoid the 300-yard carry over the water and a guarding bunker. As soon as he hit his tee shot and watched it landed in the thick rough up the hill to the right, he asked himself a question.
“What am I doing?” he said, adding, “I hit myself in the worst possible spot that I could in. Even if I aim left and cut it and it goes in the bunker, a much better position than I am in the right rough with 210 yards to the hole. I mean, I’ve got no chance.”
After looking at his lie, he decided to lay up. Spieth was surprised. “I would have tried to go for it, but I didn’t see his lie,” Spieth said. Noted Johnson: “I just couldn’t get to the green with the lie I had.”
Dustin Johnson extended highlights | Round 4 | THE NORTHERN TRUST
Once they reached the green, Spieth had 76 feet to cover with two putts for par, while Johnson faced a 17-1/2 foot par putt. To no one’s surprise, Spieth rolled his long putt to 2 feet. That essentially forced DJ to make in order to stay alive.
It’s not a situation he’s used to. Johnson’s wins have usually been decided by easy two-putts or simple makes. “This was the first one I’ve really had to work at,” he said.
He made the stroke. Spieth peered in. From 3 feet out, he thought it was high. Then he looked at DJ. “His body language was hanging in,” Spieth said. “I’m like, ‘Does that really still have a chance?’”
Even as the ball was 1 foot away, DJ was skeptical too. “I thought it was going to miss, for sure,” he said. “… It was just not wanting to turn.”
But it did, curling in. At that point, it really did seem like a boxing match, as Johnson threw a punch into the air. “That was a weak first pump,” he said. “I was just so happy. I thought it was going to miss and then it went in and – yeah, it was weak, though, I have to say.”
Now back to 18 for the playoff. Once they reached the tee, the wind had turned in their favor. Spieth teed off first and found the fairway again. Silently, he hoped Johnson hadn’t noticed the wind shift and would take the same line he did in regulation.
“I was hoping that he would line up down the middle,” Spieth said, “He almost can’t hold the fairway lining up down the middle. But when he lined up over there and hit the drive …”
Well, it went 341 yards – the longest of any drive at 18 all week. Fans lining the curve of the dog-leg gawked at the length. One volunteer, an older gentleman, said, “I don’t ever think I’ve seen a ball hit that far in my life. That’s insane. The guy’s a freak.”
In retrospect, Spieth kicked himself for not taking a similar line. “I didn’t take the chance over the water like I should have,” he said.
Thanks to the different angle, Johnson was just 95 yards to the pin. Meanwhile, Spieth’s drive – which he also cranked to 315 yards on the conservative line – left him 174 yards from the pin.
And that was it. Spieth’s approach left him on the far edge 25 feet from the pin, a difficult putt. Johnson knocked his 60-degree wedge to inside 4 feet. He was back in the winner’s circle for the first time since his three consecutive wins before the Masters.
“I needed it more,” Johnson said. “He just won the British, right? He’s been playing really well. … I definitely needed it.”
Spieth was disappointed but not distraught. Johnson had shot a bogey-free 66, rarely in serious danger of making a bogey until the 18th in regulation. “I didn’t lose the tournament,” Spieth said. “He won.”
And so did the fans. Unlike Mayweather-McGregor in Las Vegas, the rooting interest was not one-sided at Glen Oaks. The crowd seemed to favor whoever was trailing. They called Spieth “Jordy” and Johnson “Dusty.”
A month from now, they’ll get to see both in action again. Spieth and DJ will represent Team USA at The Presidents Cup at Liberty National.
“I love playing in New York,” Johnson said. “The fans like me, and so I hope they continue to like me – because if they don’t, that’s not any fun for sure because they can be mean. But … they seem to like me for some reason and I love it.”