It is difficult to go into the U.S. Open on a better note than Dustin Johnson just did.
A walk-off eagle-2 from 171 yards on the 72nd hole put an incredible finishing touch to a final-round 4-under 66, and a six-stroke rout at the FedEx St. Jude Classic.
Not only did DJ coast to a victory in Memphis, he got back his position as the No. 1 ranked golfer in the Official World Golf Rankings, which he’d held for over a year before Justin Thomas recently passed him.
Johnson, the 2016 U.S. Open Champion, is undeniably at the top of his game, and will be a betting favorite at the 123rd edition of America’s national golf championship this week at Shinnecock Hills.
Coming into the final round, Johnson and lesser-known Andrew Putnam were co-leaders, holding a five-stroke advantage on the rest of the field, and with how difficult TPC Southwind plays, that lead felt insurmountable.
Putnam, playing in the final Sunday pairing for the first time in his career, carded a double-bogey on the first hole, giving DJ a lead he would never come close to relinquishing.
The 29-year old journeyman calmed down after the difficult start, playing the remaining 17 holes to even-par en route to a 72 and a four-day score of 13-under par, good for solo second place at 13-under par.
While Putnam’s 267 was four clear of third-place finisher J.B. Holmes, it was still six strokes back of Johnson, who was more than phenomenal in his Shinnecock Hills warm-up.
It was the 18th career victory for the 33-year-old Johnson, and second of the season. He also won the 2012 version of this event, but at 19-under-par, this win was 10 strokes better than his last TPC Southwind triumph.
FINAL TOP 10
1 Dustin Johnson -19
2 Andrew Putnam -13
3 J.B. Holmes -9
4 Richy Werenski -8
4 Stewart Cink -8
6 Austin Cook -7
6 Retief Goosen -7
6 Chris Kirk -7
6 Trey Mullinax -7
6 Brandt Snedeker -7
6 Chez Reavie -7
12 Phil Mickelson -6
12 Stuart Appleby -6
18 Steve Stricker -5
26 Henrik Stenson -4
26 Braden Thornberry(a) -4
30 Shane Lowry -3
30 Brooks Koepka -3
51 Ryan Palmer +1
51 Billy Horschel +1
56 Padraig Harrington +2
56 Luke List +2
72 Charl Schwartzel +10
1. Dustin Johnson 320.3 (1)
2. Charles Howell III 315.1 (T26)
3. Scott Stallings 313.6 (T30)
1. Henrik Stenson 75% (T26)
2. Andrew Putnam 71.4% (2)
3. Retief Goosen 69.6% (T6)
36. Dustin Johnson 53.6% (1)
1. Andrew Putnam 77.8% (2)
2. Henrik Stenson 76.4% (T26)
3. J.B. Holmes 75% (3)
3. J.T. Poston 75% (T18)
10. Dustin Johnson 68.1% (1)
HOW DUSTIN JOHNSON WON THE FEDEX ST. JUDE CLASSIC
Coming into the final round at TPC Southwind, his skill and experience gave Johnson a considerable advantage over Andrew Putnam, whose two career victories were both on the Web.com Tour. But after DJ had been outdueled by Ted Potter Jr. in a similar situation earlier this year at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, nothing was a given.
Johnson went from co-leader to outright leader by two after Putnam’s opening double-bogey, and the lead stayed at a deuce after DJ turned in even-par.
DJ’s lead expanded to four following birdies on Nos. 13 and 16, and grew to six following a walk-off eagle on 18. Finishing at 19-under-par, the lowest score since 2003, Putnam (-13) was the only golfer in the field closer than 10 strokes back.
For the week, Johnson led the field in birdies, driving distance and strokes gained: tee-to-green.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR DUSTIN JOHNSON
This was Johnson’s second victory of the season, with the first coming six months ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions.
In the eight events he played in between, he finished outside the top 17 just once. He moved up to the No. 2 position in the FedExCup Standings, trailing only Justin Thomas, who he passed for the No. 1 position in the Official World Golf Rankings.
This should give him a tremendous amount of confidence going into the year’s second major. He will be given an enormous amount of attention, as he is paired with Thomas and Tiger Woods in the opening two rounds at Shinnecock Hills.
DJ now leads the PGA Tour in strokes gained: off-the-tee, strokes gained: tee-to-green, and scoring average. Statistically, his game is currently showing no signs of weakness.
On a difficult final day at TPC Southwind, three players tied for the Sunday low round at 5-under 65. Among those three, the second biggest mover was Austin Cook, who jumped 33 spots up the final leaderboard into a tie for sixth place.
It was Cook’s first top-10 finish since he won the RSM Classic last November, but while his finishes have not been spectacular in recent months, he has made an impressive 15 cuts in 19 events this season, and at 25th in the FedExCup Standings, he has an excellent shot at qualifying for the Tour Championship.
Another one of those 5-under 65s came from Tim Herron, who has strung together back-to-back decent finishes for the first time in years. The 48-year-old Herron was consistently one of the better players on Tour before the advent of the FedExCup, but has struggled badly to remain relevant in recent years.
J.B. Holmes had been struggling badly since a slow-play incident at Torrey Pines in January that he received a tremendous amount of bad press for. He seems to finally be back on track as a final round 3-under 67 got Holmes his best finish of the year: a solo-third.
This comes the week after a respectable T13 finish at The Memorial Tournament. Holmes is known as a bomber, but was third in the St. Jude Classic field in greens in regulation.
A bogey-free 4-under 66 gave 49-year-old Retief Goosen a T6 finish, his first top 10 in a non-opposite field event since a T8 at the Northern Trust Open in February of 2015.
Surprisingly, Goosen did his best work off the tees, where he was 7th in the field in strokes gained: off-the-tee and third in driving accuracy. It was not enough to qualify for next week’s U.S. Open, an event that Goosen won in 2001 and 2004, with the latter being the last time the event was at Shinnecock Hills, but he did greatly improve his chances of making the FedExCup Playoffs, as he currently sits at No. 127 in the standings.
Brooks Koepka, who will be defending his 2017 U.S. Open victory next week, was coming into Memphis hot, shooting 63s in three of his previous five rounds, and he has an excellent history at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, with top-3 finishes in two of his last three event starts.
Koepka should still be a favorite at Shinnecock Hills, but that will not have anything to do with his Sunday at TPC Southwind. He failed to card a single birdie in a round of 3-over 73 that dropped him into a tie for 30th.
Billy Horschel had finished in the top 10 of his last four trips to TPC Southwind, but a 4-over 74 dropped him out of the top 50 of this year’s edition. Horschel surprisingly led the field in strokes gained: off-the-tee for the week, but badly struggled with his irons.
Grayson Murray is in the midst of a good season, having made 15 of 20 cuts, with seven finishes in the top 25. However, Murray has been absolutely abysmal on Sunday of his last two events. After closing with a 9-over 81 at last week’s Memorial Tournament, the Arizona State product again failed to break 80 on Sunday, shooting a 10-over 80, losing nine strokes over his last seven holes.
Enormous attention was given to Phil Mickelson this week, as he prepares for next week’s U.S. Open, a tournament he has failed to win, but has finished runner-up six times.
After his Sunday at TPC Southwind, he has to be feeling pretty good. A 5-under 65 tied for the low round of the day and jumped him 37 spots up the leaderboard, into a tie for 12th.
Mickelson’s tee-to-green game was pristine in the final round – an excellent sign of his chances to complete the career Grand Slam with a victory at Shinnecock Hills.
“I have high expectations going into every week. I feel like the game is in good shape; I’m driving well, I’m hitting my irons real well, wedges are really good, so I’m really looking forward to going into next week. Obviously, I havn’t seen the golf course yet, but I’ll go get 18 holes in tomorrow, and go from there.”
– Dustin Johnson