Johnson finally adds FedExCup to his Hall of Fame resume
September 07, 2020
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
Dustin Johnson wins TOUR Championship and FedExCup
ATLANTA – When Dustin Johnson left East Lake last year, after finishing in last place, he was headed for an operating table. Now he’s leaving with his first FedExCup, one of the few accomplishments that was missing from a resume worthy of the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Johnson is the champion of a season unlike any other. He did it with a month that reminded us of how easy he can make the game look.
This season was anything but. Johnson had surgery on his left knee less than two weeks after last year’s TOUR Championship and didn’t play until the Presidents Cup in December. He made just four starts before the season was shut down by the coronavirus pandemic. Even after his first win of the season, he shot back-to-back 80s at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide.
“I’ve never seen him that lost,” said Justin Thomas, who played with him that week.
Johnson is known for his ability to recover from setbacks and tough losses. Perhaps that is why he’s a fitting champion for the 2020 season.
After beating just one player at the Memorial and withdrawing from his next start because of a back injury, Johnson put on an impressive performance over his final four starts.
He closed the season with two wins and two runners-up. He was the 54-hole leader in all four events. Only two 64s – from Collin Morikawa at the PGA and Jon Rahm at the BMW Championship – and two of the season’s most incredible shots could stop Johnson during that closing stretch.
Johnson shot the second-lowest score in PGA TOUR history to win THE NORTHERN TRUST by 11, then claimed the TOUR Championship to finally win the FedExCup after qualifying for East Lake in each of the last 12 seasons.
“Being a FedExCup champion is something that I really wanted to do,” he said. “I wanted to hold that trophy at the end of the day. It was something that I wanted to accomplish during my career.”
Johnson took a five-shot lead into the final round of the season, but his lead was down to two on the back nine. That’s when he executed a series of clutch shots that helped keep his closest competitors at bay.
First, he holed a 21-footer for par on 13. Then he laced a pair of 5-irons within 15 feet on both 14 and 15.
The latter came on East Lake’s scariest hole, an island-green par-3 that is longer than 230 yards. He drove into a fairway bunker on the next hole but hit a sand wedge onto the green to make par. He called that last shot the best of the bunch.
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“Having a five-shot lead today, it's something I needed to finish off,” he said.
Johnson made eight consecutive pars on the back nine before a birdie at the last hole. He shot 68 on Monday to win by three.
Johnson is now the unquestioned top player in the game right now. His three victories this season – he also won the Travelers Championship in June – tied Thomas for the most on TOUR this season. Johnson also was runner-up in the lone major of the season.
He is the favorite to be voted PGA TOUR Player of the Year by his peers. He would join an exclusive club if he is. Only Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth have won the FedExCup, finished the season atop the Official World Golf Ranking and been voted PGA TOUR Player of the Year in the same season.
Woods did it in 2007 and 2009. Spieth did in 2015, the same season he flirted with the Grand Slam.
What a difference a year makes.
Johnson could barely beat anyone by the end of last season because of his aching left knee. He finished ahead of just 12 players at the BMW Championship, then shot the highest score at East Lake by three shots.
How concerned was he when he left East Lake last year?
“I don't even remember what happened last year,” he said Monday night. “That was a long time ago.”
It was. Johnson’s biggest asset, even bigger than his long drives, is his short memory. Even if he can’t recall, he was undoubtedly struggling last year a year ago. He didn’t finish better than 20th in his final eight starts of the season, his longest stretch without a top-10 since his rookie season.
After surgery and the season’s hiatus, he needed an MRI on his left knee after the first event back, the Charles Schwab Challenge. It revealed no damage, just a strain, but it was the latest in a line of frustrations for the former World No. 1.
Because of his injuries and struggles, Johnson had been overshadowed by workout buddy Brooks Koepka and the charisma and consistency of Rory McIlroy over the last two years.
Not anymore. His recent play is reminiscent of his three-event winning streak in 2017.
“Obviously I'm playing very well now,” Johnson said. “I feel like I can play better, though.”
That’s a scary thought.