FedEx Cup win caps remarkable turnaround for undisputed No 1
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 FedEx Cup, one of the few accomplishments that was missing from a resume already 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－but this campaign 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.
“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 produced mightily impressive performances over his final four starts.
He closed the season with two wins and two runner-up finishes. He was the 54-hole leader in all four events. Only two 64s－from Collin Morikawa at the PGA Championship 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 FedEx Cup after qualifying for East Lake in each of the last 12 seasons.
“Being a FedEx Cup 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 won the $15 million prize, the biggest in golf.
Equally important was getting his named etched on that silver FedEx Cup trophy alongside some of the best from his generation, starting with Tiger Woods and most recently Rory McIlroy. “This is a tough golf course. No lead is safe,” Johnson said. “The guys gave me a good fight today.”
He became the first No 1 seed at the Tour Championship to win the FedEx Cup since Woods in 2009.
Johnson took a five-shot advantage into the final round, 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 five-irons within 15 feet on 14 and 15.
The latter came on East Lake’s scariest hole, an island-green par-3 that is 233 yards long. 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.
“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.
The South Carolina native is now the undisputed 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. Johnson was also a runner-up in the lone major of the season, the PGA Championship, behind Morikawa.
He is the favorite to be voted PGA Tour Player of the Year by his peers and would join an exclusive club if he is. Only Woods and Jordan Spieth have claimed the award, the FedEx Cup and the end-of-year world No 1 spot in the same season.
Woods did it in 2007 and 2009.Spieth did in 2015. 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.”
Johnson’s biggest asset, aside from his huge drives, is his short memory. Even if he can’t recall, he was undoubtedly struggling last year. 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 36-year-old.
Because of his injuries and struggles, Johnson had been overshadowed by workout buddy Brooks Koepka and the consistency of 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.”
For his rivals, that’s a scary thought.
PGATour.com contributed to this story.