Contrasts make Spieth-Johnson 'rivalry' intriguing
August 30, 2017
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
Jordan Spieth's slo-mo swing is analyzed at THE NORTHERN TRUST
Jack and Arnie. Tiger and Phil. Dustin and Jordan?
It’s early, so the rivalry between FedExCup No. 1 Dustin Johnson and No. 2 Jordan Spieth, if one exists, is still just a pencil sketch that could coalesce into a work of art, or not. As the Playoffs roll into TPC Boston for the Dell Technologies Championship, all we know for sure is they’re chummy (they teamed up to go 2-1-0 at the 2015 Presidents Cup in Korea); they play many of the same courses well; and they seem to understand why one might call it a rivalry.
“I think everyone wanted a fight to the end,” Spieth said at THE NORTHERN TRUST at Glen Oaks last weekend, after Johnson made a 17 ½-foot par putt to force a playoff, which he won with a birdie on the first extra hole. “I think the way it played out, if I had been a fan, I would have been obviously very pleased with the way this tournament went.”
In other words, Spieth can appreciate how this must look, the intriguing contrast between two vastly different superpowers with vastly different styles, each vying to be No. 1.
South Carolina vs. Texas. Early 30s vs. early 20s. Johnson’s thunder vs. Spieth’s sixth sense. Johnson’s stellar beard vs. Spieth’s caddie’s stellar beard. (Take a bow, Michael Greller.)
The contrasts are what give a rivalry its texture. (Think Golden State Warriors and Steph Curry vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James.) But there must also be familiarity, and in that regard, Johnson-Spieth also works. They see each other a lot, which is partly because of the rare air at the top, and partly because they seem to like many of the same tracks.
Each has won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am (Spieth in 2017, Johnson in 2009, 2010) in Monterey, and the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua (Spieth in 2016, Johnson in 2013). Although THE NORTHERN TRUST marked their first sudden-death playoff, it should’ve been their second. They were headed for overtime at the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay before Johnson’s freakish three-putt on the 72nd hole left the trophy to Spieth.
D.J. on Spieth: “Jordan is a tough competitor.”
Spieth on D.J.: “It’s very difficult holding a lead on a difficult golf course when the guy you’re playing with goes bogey-free and doesn't even really sniff a bogey and shoots 4-under.”
They’ve combined for seven titles this season, at the Genesis Open, World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship, WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and THE NORTHERN TRUST (Johnson); plus the AT&T Pebble Beach, Travelers Championship and The Open (Spieth).
Dustin Johnson wins in a playoff at THE NORTHERN TRUST
As we go into the last three tournaments of the Playoffs, Johnson leads all players with 88 weeks inside the top five of the FedExCup standings since 2013. Spieth is in third with 66 weeks. (Jimmy Walker is second at 73 weeks.) Only Spieth has won it all, in 2015.
Johnson leads the TOUR in strokes gained: tee-to-green, and has Spieth beat by .802 strokes per round off the tee. Spieth is better in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green, Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green, and Strokes Gained: Putting.
Johnson, after winning the WGC-Dell Technology Match Play in March: “If I’m playing my best, yeah, I’ll play against anybody, anytime.”
Spieth, after the first round of The Open in 2015: “I’ve played enough golf with (Johnson) to where I believe in my skill set that I can still trump that crazy ability that he has.”
Both have brothers who played college basketball, Steven Spieth at Brown before earning a spot on the Dallas Mavericks summer league team in June, and Austin Johnson at Charleston Southern.
Both have a sneaky sense of humor. Upon hiring Austin as his caddie in 2013, Dustin was asked if he’d checked his little bro’s resume. He told CBS Sports he had not — and “probably wouldn’t have believed it anyway.” Spieth sometimes remarks on his older caddie’s “Greller belly.”
Both make fun of themselves, too. Johnson lamented his “weak” fist pump after his par save on the 72nd hole at THE NORTHERN TRUST in New York. Spieth said “I lost my mind” after he holed out from the bunker to win the Travelers and incite rake-tossing delirium in Connecticut.
For the record, Johnson and Spieth have been paired together 23 times on TOUR, with Johnson (48-under par) edging Spieth (46 under) in relation to par. Spieth, though, has shot the lower score 12 times to Johnson’s nine, with two ties. They’ve combined to win four of the last 12 majors — with Spieth doing the bulk of the work, with three. (The ledger might look different today if Johnson hadn’t fallen down some stairs before the Masters.)
Johnson has 16 wins in 218 career starts (7-percent win percentage); Spieth has 11 wins in 124 starts (9-percent win percentage). Johnson has 77 top-10 finishes (35 percent), Spieth 49 (40 percent).
Neither man has won at TPC Boston, although Johnson has three top-10s and has proven capable of figuring out any course with 18 holes. Ditto for Spieth, who was playing with Phil Mickelson when he fired a final-round 62 to tie for fourth at TPC Boston in 2013. The round became part of Spieth lore, prompting a wide-eyed Lefty to text his pal and then-Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples: “Dude, you’ve got to pick this guy.” (Couples did.)
Johnson, Spieth and FedExCup No. 3 Justin Thomas, who has won seemingly everything they haven’t, will tee off at 9:15 a.m. ET Friday. They’ll be teammates at next month’s Presidents Cup at Liberty National in New Jersey, but in the FedExCup Playoffs it’s every man for himself.
Fist pumps, chest bumps and rake-tossing are encouraged.