Eminem might be friends with the monster under his bed, but Jason Day wants nothing more to do with the one he faced today.
For the second straight day, “The Monster”, the affectionate nickname for the Brobdingnagian 667-yard par-5 16th hole at Firestone Country Club, the site of this week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, claimed a victim from the top 2 of the World Rankings.
Yesterday, world #2 Jordan Spieth was effectively knocked from contention with an untimely snowman on the hole. Today, with the title on the line, it claimed the unshakeable #1 Jason Day.
After sorting through all the carnage from hole #16, one man stood on top of Firestone’s mountain: World #3 Dustin Johnson. The win comes just two weeks after Johnson’s breakthrough major victory at the U.S. Open.
That is not to say that Dustin Johnson only won due to some uncharacteristic failures of those around him. It is much closer to the complete opposite.
This was Johnson’s first tournament since that proverbial monkey came off his back at Oakmont. He spent his time in between the two events on a vacation in The Bahamas during which, according to Johnson himself, he did not play much golf. The rust showed early as he followed up a decent first round 69 with a mediocre 3-over 73 on Friday, leaving him at 2-over going into the weekend.
That is when DJ hit the turbo boosters. A 66-66 weekend vaulted him to the front of the leaderboard, and now he is on a two-event winning streak heading into The Open Championship at Troon in two weeks.
“I played good this weekend.” said Johnson, “I felt like i drove it really well, had a lot of shots from the fairway, which you gotta do around here, especially with the course being firm and I felt like I rolled the ball really well with the putter today.”
As many PGA Tour members are prone to do, Johnson was being modest. In reality, he was phenomenal. Over the weekend, he had 11 birdies to just 3 bogeys. He was long (his 341.2 yard average was second in the field), he was accurate, and today, he was clutch. He came back from a five-stroke deficit on one of the most difficult courses on tour, and mowed down the (previously) hottest golfer on the planet.
Early on, it appeared the narrative of the tournament would be the continued domination of Jason Day, the man who had won 7 of his past 19 tournaments. Day started the day co-leading with Scott Piercy, but gained breathing room with a chip-in eagle on the second hole. After a third round where Day only hit three fairways, he showed precision off the tees early in round 4.
A few players, most notably David Lingmerth and Kevin Chappell were briefly part of the story, but then faded. When the lead group hit the back nine, it was essentially a three-man tournament: Day, Piercy, and a suddenly sizzling DJ, who went out in 2-under and then birdied 13 and 14. Then a Day lip-out on 15 combined with a Johnson birdie on 17, put Johnson into the lead for the first time.
Johnson went onto bogey 18 after a tree caught his second shot, but the error was then dwarfed by Day’s disaster on The Monster.
On that 16th hole, Day hit a wayward tee shot well left, and was forced to hack the ball out from under the trees and onto the other side of the fairway. His ball was picked up by a spectator, which appeared to be a break for Day, as he was able to drop in a more favorable position.
The man who was destroying the field in scrambling (an incredible 85.71% up to that point) was expected to hit a typical high-quality shot from the rough, and get in position for an up-and-down for his five. This was where the play deviated from the script. Day hit his third shot into the water, and then blasted his fifth over the green. He settled for a double-bogey 7, giving Johnson a two-stroke lead with just two holes to play. After Day parred 17, the tournament was over: Johnson would win his second straight start, both against elite fields.
Scott Piercy, who co-led with Day after 54 holes, birdied the difficult 18th to finish alone in second, just one back of Johnson. Piercy also finished second to Johnson at Oakmont.
Day bogeyed the 18th to finish T3 with Spieth, Chappell, and Matt Kuchar.
With next week’s Greenbrier Classic getting cancelled due to the floods that devastated Southeastern West Virginia, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational is the last PGA Tour event before the season’s third major; a major where Dustin Johnson has to be considered the early favorite.