An ultra-talented force to be reckoned with since he burst onto the PGA scene in 2008, Dustin Johnson has little still left to accomplish as a professional golfer. So it had to feel great to cross something off the list on Monday: a $15 million payday.
With a Labor Day 2-under 68 at East Lake Golf Club, the resilient Johnson won the season-ending Tour Championship, the final event of a FedExCup playoffs that the 36-year-old absolutely dominated. In turn, he won the season-long FedEx Cup, and was awarded its mammoth $15 million prize, the most lucrative in all of sports.
Johnson came to East Lake off one of the best stretches of play of a career that has had many. In the second week of August, he finished T2 at the PGA Championship, then won the playoff-opening The Northern Trust by an absurd 11 strokes, followed by a solo runner-up at last week’s BMW Championship, which he barely lost in a playoff after Jon Rahm shockingly nailed an unlikely 65-foot birdie putt.
Those phenomenal results allowed the world No. 1 to ascend to the top of the FedExCup standings, an enormous advantage in the second year of a revamped format, as he began the Tour Championship at 10-under-par. Rahm, second in the standings, was second at 8-under, with descending starting scores down the list, ending with the three players in the 28-30 slots starting at the traditional even par.
Beating DJ when he is on top of his game is a daunting enough task as it is; letting him START with the lead is something else.
It looked near impossible to catch him when a third-round 64 gave him a five-stroke lead with just 18 holes to play. However, Johnson knew he could not get too comfortable. His closest competitors were elite players.
There was Xander Schauffele, a man who somehow turns into prime Tiger at East Lake. There was former FedExCup champ Justin Thomas, who came into the week with three wins on the COVID-shortened and rescheduled season. Rahm outdueled DJ in Chicago last week, and was still in the mix as well.
In addition, Johnson had failed in a similar position in 2016. He had held the 54-hole co-lead, but collapsed on the final day with a 3-over 73 that lost him both the tournament and the Cup to Rory McIlroy.
There was no repeat failure on Labor Day.
Johnson looked unshakable early, carding birdies on three of his first six holes. However, back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 7 and 8 brought the elite field back into the picture, and after he parred the first seven holes of the back nine, both Schauffele and Thomas got within two strokes of him.
They would get no closer. A par-birdie finish got DJ to 21-under for the week, three strokes better than anyone else. Schauffele and Thomas did receive a nice consolation prize though: $4.5 million a piece.
The victory was the 23rd of Johnson’s prodigious career, his third of the season, and sixth in a FedExCup playoff event. He had been close in the past, but this was his first FedExCup title. With three victories on the season, he is very likely to be named PGA Tour Player of the Year for the second time.
There will be little time for Johnson and his peers to rest. The new PGA Tour season already begins next week with the Safeway Open followed by the U.S. Open, the toughest test in golf.
Final Top-10 Finishers
1. Dustin Johnson -21 (-2)
2. Xander Schauffele -18 (-4)
2. Justin Thomas -18 (-4)
4. Jon Rahm -17 (-4)
5. Scottie Scheffler -14 (-5)
6. Collin Morikawa -13 (-1)
7. Tyrrell Hatton -12 (-4)
8. Patrick Reed -11 (-4)
8. Rory McIlroy -11 (-3)
8. Sebastian Munoz -11 (-3)
Final Stat Leaders
Driving: Dustin Johnson – 319.3 yards
Fairways: Patrick Reed – 73.2%
Greens: Viktor Hovland – 75%
Putts/GIR: Collin Morikawa – 1.604
Birdies: Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele – 21
How Dustin Johnson Won The Tour Championship
Getting to begin the Tour Championship at 10 under proved to be too much for the field, with Johnson either leading or co-leading at the beginning of each round. He won the prolific event despite not actually finishing the lowest to par at the course.
The low scorer for the week without the handicaps was Schauffele, who played the 72 holes at 15-under-par, but at 14th in the FedExCup standings coming into the week, he started at 3-under, and was not able to close the entire seven-stroke gap. Johnson’s 11-under on the course tied for the third-best score in the field.
As has been the case lately, DJ showed no weaknesses in his game. A powerfully long hitter, Johnson’s 20 birdies for the week ranked third in the field. He was third in strokes gained: tee-to-green, fourth in strokes gained: around-the-green, and was fifth in greens in regulation.
Since the Tour restart in June, Johnson has shown increased proficiency with his putter, and the story with the flatstick was no different at East Lake.
DJ’S Winning Numbers
Driving: 317.6 yards (2nd)
Fairways: 24/56, 42.86% (28th)
Greens: 50/72, 69.44% (5th)
Putts/GIR: 1.680 (9th)
SG: Total: 6.667 (3rd)
Scores: 20 Birdies, 43 Pars, 9 Bogeys
What It Means For Johnson
With four straight results of second place or better, Johnson getting THIS hot should be scary to the field, as he has shown the ability to keep a heater going.
Normally, the Tour schedule decreases significantly in money, prestige, and strength of fields in the weeks following the Tour Championship, but with all the chaos created by the three-month COVID-19 layoff, a number of high-profile events are still to be played in the 2020 calendar year, including the U.S. Open in two weeks and The Masters in November.
This momentum could be critical to Johnson’s legacy. Despite all the winning he has done – he has at least one victory in each of his 13 Tour seasons – he has been subject to constant criticism for his paucity of major championship trophies. DJ has landed in the winner’s circle of a major just once – at the 2016 U.S. Open. He has finished runner-up at least once in each of the other three majors.
2020 PGA Tour Season
Cuts Made: 11
(Travelers Championship, The Northern Trust, Tour Championship)
Addtl Top 10s: 4
FedEx Pts: 2020 Winner
Earnings: $5,837,267 (3rd)*
World Rank Before/After: 1/1
* Does not include $15 million won for FedExCup
Other than Xander Schauffele, only one man in the field had a lower score to par the Johnson without the staggered start: rookie phenom Scottie Scheffler.
The 24-year-old Texas product shot a bogey-free 5-under 65 on Monday to move from eighth place to fifth, which comes with an enormous difference in prize money at this event.
Scheffler has been phenomenal since the beginning of August. He played with Johnson in the final Sunday pairing at the PGA Championship and finished T4. He also shot a second-round 59 at The Northern Trust, leading to another T4.
Scheffler looked to have cooled off when he opened East Lake with a 1-over 71, but he followed that round with rounds of 66, 66, 65, respectively, which was the lowest score in the field over the final three rounds.
Matching Scheffler’s field-low 65 on Monday was former Masters champion Patrick Reed.
Reed’s bogey-free Monday jumped him a field-high ten spots up the final leaderboard, from 18th to T8. He had just five bogeys for the week and led the field in driving accuracy and scrambling.
Justin Thomas put the most pressure on Johnson early in the round. A three-time winner himself on the season, Thomas birdied five of his first seven holes, although two bogeys on the front prevented him from getting closer than three strokes to DJ on the front. Birdies on 16 and 18 resulted in a 4-under 66 and a runner-up finish at East Lake.
Daniel Berger has been exemplary in the 2020 season, with a win and three other top-3 finishes since the Tour re-start in June. His seven top-10s were five more than he had in 2018 and 2019 combined, and his 13 top-25s in 17 starts matches his career high, during his 31-start 2015 season where he was named Tour Rookie of the Year.
However, the Florida State product was unable to get into the mix at East Lake this week, and especially poor on Monday, shooting a 3-over 73 that was better than just one player in the field. Berger dropped nine spots on the final day, moving from T6 to T15.
The worst score in the Monday field came from surprising leaderboard regular (at least in 2020) Brendon Todd. The two-time winner on the season, who also held the 54-hole lead in two other events, was miserable in the final round, failing to card a single birdie in a 4-over 74 that caused him to plummet from T9 to T20.
The 35-year-old is having his best season on Tour, but has had trouble finishing events. He has the fifth-best round 1 scoring average on Tour (69.08), but ranks 162nd in final round average 71.22.
Abraham Ancer was the 18-hole co-leader after opening with a 6-under 64. Looking for his first career victory, the Mexico resident needed three birdies over his final six holes just to salvage a 2-over 72 that dropped him from T12 to T18 on the final leaderboard.
It Means a Lot
“Well, it means a lot. Obviously it’s a very tough trophy to win. I’ve been close several times. This time I did control my own destiny, which I knew what I had to do. I had the lead to start, but I still had to go out and play well today.
I had a lot of great players right behind me and they played some good golf today. It got pretty close there at the end, which is what I thought it would be. I knew I was going to have to come down the stretch and hit some golf shots.
But I’m very proud of winning the FedExCup Trophy.”
– Dustin Johnson, FedExCup Champion
WITB: DJ Wins With a Full Bag of TaylorMade
The 36-year old South Carolina native won for the 23rd time on the PGA Tour by playing a full bag of TaylorMade.
What’s in the Bag (WITB): Dustin Johnson
Driver: TaylorMade SIM Max (10.5°)
3 Wood: TaylorMade SIM Max (16°)
Hybrid: TaylorMade SIM Max (19°)
Irons: TaylorMade P730 DJ Protos (4-PW)
Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind 2 (52°, 60°)
Putter: TaylorMade TB1 Truss
Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
Final Scores, Money
Top-5 Check Cashers
1. Dustin Johnson – $15m
2. Justin Thomas – $4.5m
2. Xander Schauffele – $4.5m
4. Jon Rahm – $3m
5. Scottie Scheffler – $2.5m
Tour Championship Results
East Lake Golf Club . Atlanta, GA . Sep 7, 2020