Dustin Johnson hits a drive at the 2013 US Open at Merion on June 12, 2013
A force to reckon with, Dustin Johnson often has been the man to beat. In 2020, Johnson’s dominance down the homestretch landed the coveted FedExCup
Dustin Johnson has accomplished pretty much all that a player can accomplish in golf. As the FedExCup finale arrived in August, he already was a major championship winner (2016 U.S. Open). He owns six World Golf Championships. He has won FedExCup Playoffs events. He has reached the No. 1 spot in the World Ranking. He has been a mainstay on U.S. Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup squads. Johnson has captured a PGA TOUR event each season since he stepped out on TOUR in 2008 as a freshly minted rookie right out of Qualifying School.
A talented athlete
Dustin Johnson is a force of nature, a freakishly talented athlete who has moxie and swagger to complement all the magnificent tools to be great. Lanky and powerful, Johnson would seem just as suited firing a 98 mph fastball or finishing off a fast break as he does smashing 330-yard drives.
There was one thing missing on Johnson’s resume, though. Johnson never had captured the season-ending FedExCup. He’d been close, but it hadn’t happened. And in 2020 he talked often about fixing that.
FedExCup: the one to win
With a torrid run to end his season, Johnson, 36, finally landed his missing trophy. He sent a bold opening message when he captured the opening FedExCup Playoffs event (THE NORTHERN TRUST) by 11 shots outside Boston. The following week he lost a wild playoff to Jon Rahm at the BMW Championship. As he arrived to Atlanta’s East Lake Golf Club already staked to a lead before he even struck a shot, he clearly was the man to beat. This time, he stubbornly refused to lose.
The winner’s FedExCup bounty of $15 million (part of a $60 million FedExCup bonus pool) was nice—Johnson could put it toward some new aquatic toys for his coastal manse in Florida, perhaps—but this one wasn’t about his bank account. There was a time when the $25,000 that Johnson won through surviving Q-School more than a decade ago surely was life changing. But Johnson has reached a point in his life where he tees it up in search of history and prestige, and not those big checks.
“The money,” Johnson shrugged, “I don’t really care about that. I want to win tournaments.”
He especially wanted to win this tournament. East Lake hasn’t always brought out his best. A year earlier, he’d left Atlanta having tied for last in a field of 30. This time, he began seeded No. 1 (as he was four years earlier) and staked to a two-shot lead over Rahm, his closest competitor. For a second year, the FedExCup Playoffs utilized a staggered scoring system to replace a confusing points structure that was difficult to follow. Johnson started TOUR Championship week at 10-under, a nice head start for a man who was sizzling hot to begin with. Rahm, a winner at BMW and seeded second, started at 8-under, No. 3 Justin Thomas was 7-under, and so on, down to players 26-30, who began the week at level par.
Some special shots
Johnson had a five-shot cushion heading into a Labor Day Monday finish, but Thomas and Xander Schauffele managed to inject some drama into the final 18 holes. It took some special shots by Johnson down the stretch—a key 20-footer to save par at 13, a crisp 5-iron onto the putting surface at the daunting 234-yard 15th, a clever sand wedge shot over the steep face of a fairway bunker at 16—for Johnson to pull away from the rest. Johnson finished the week at 21-under. His final margin of victory was three shots over Thomas and Schauffele and four over Rahm. All three players shot 66s in the final round. Scottie Scheffler ended a strong rookie campaign by finishing solo fifth.
“It means a lot,” Johnson, who shot 64-68 over the final two rounds, said of his victory. “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.”
An earlier stumble
Four years earlier, Johnson squandered a great shot at the FedExCup finale. He owned the 54-hole lead at East Lake but stumbled with a 73 on the final day. He still had a chance to win the Cup, though. Rory McIlroy, Kevin Chappell and Ryan Moore finished in a three-way tie for first. Had Chappell or Moore won the playoff, the Cup was Johnson’s. But McIlroy prevailed, earning the FedExCup triumph.
Nobody played better than Johnson in the final month of the 2019-20 season. In Johnson’s final four starts, only two players—two!!—finished ahead of him.
“It’s like he’s led for a month,” NBC’s Paul Azinger said at the TOUR Championship.
Johnson held the 54-hole lead at the PGA Championship at Harding Park, but Collin Morikawa shot a final-round 64 to beat him by two. Johnson ventured to TPC Boston and absolutely dominated at THE NORTHERN TRUST, shooting 31-under par (closing 60-64-63). He lost at the BMW when Rahm holed a curling 66-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole. Johnson had provided his own drama minutes earlier on the 72nd hole, making a double-breaking 43-footer just to force extra holes. And then came East Lake, where Johnson validated himself as the season’s top player.
Johnson’s deserving win
Schauffele, who won the TOUR Championship three years earlier and has a strong record at East Lake (a victory and two runner-up finishes), posted the low aggregate score for the week, but he knows the deal. There was no begrudging the champion.
“He deserves to win,” Schauffele said of Johnson. “He won the first one (THE NORTHERN TRUST), tied first in the second, and I don’t know what he finished here. He obviously is playing great golf, and I think that’s what the Playoffs are all about.”
Johnson finally had his coveted trophy, and plenty of momentum, too.
“I’m definitely playing the best I’ve ever played,” Johnson said proudly. “I really feel that everything is dialed in pretty well.”
By Jeff Babineau