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Johnson sizzles in playoff to take over FedEx Cup lead

29 AUG 2017

By Dave Kaplan

Move over Hideki Matsuyama. There’s a new leader in town!

Dustin Johnson seized first place in the FedEx Cup standings on Sunday evening at the Northern Trust Open by defeating Jordan Spieth with a birdie on the first hole of a playoff. It was the 16th PGA Tour victory of Johnson’s career and the reigning World No. 1 had to fight tooth and nail throughout the final round to get it done.

DJ trailed Spieth by three shots heading into the final round and by as much as five strokes following the duo’s first five holes. However, the Texan gave three of those shots back, with a double bogey on the 6th hole and a bogey on the 9th, before completing his front nine. The South Carolinian birdied the 9th to get to within one shot of his playing partner and then poured in three more birdies on the back nine to reach 13-under par. Spieth responded to the veteran’s charge with two birdies of his own on both the 13th and 14th holes to also get to 13-under par coming down the stretch — and then made a couple of incredible par saves on the final two holes to stay there!

On the 17th hole, Spieth made this clutch left-to-right par putt from 19 feet to stay tied with Johnson going into the final hole.

Then, on the final green, Spieth lagged this 75-foot putt to just nine inches to guarantee his par and put the pressure back on DJ, who had to make a 17-foot putt of his own in order to get into the playoff.

Johnson somehow managed to rattle his par putt into the cup and then let out the type of emotional outburst that we seldom witness from the 33-year-old!

In the playoff, DJ made quick work of Spieth. He bombed a mammoth 341-yard drive off the tee, hit a lob wedge to four feet from 95 yards, and then buried his putt for a birdie. Spieth sent his approach shot from 174 yards through the green and could not make his 25-foot birdie try from the back fringe to extend the match.

The victory was the fourth of DJ’s season and his first since he withdrew from the Masters in April, after slipping on the stairs in his rental home and injuring his back. Prior to the accident, Johnson had won three tournaments in a row and appeared to be on the brink of some sort of remarkable Tiger-esque run. Unfortunately, that injury halted DJ’s momentum and over his next nine starts, the 2016 U.S. Open champion struggled with his consistency, earning equal numbers of Top 10s and missed cuts. 

However, it was a different story in New York last week, as the long-bomber averaged 314 yards off the tee, while hitting 77% of his fairways for the week. With the victory, DJ both secured a spot for himself in Top 5 for the Tour Championship at East Lake and threw his hat into the ring for Player of the Year consideration, alongside Spieth, Matsuyama and Justin Thomas.

It should be noted that Spieth did play exceptionally well last week at Glen Oaks, posting rounds of 65 and 64 on Friday and Saturday in addition to dropping 22 birdies for the week. Admittedly, it was a surprise to see Spieth fail to close out the tournament despite such a substantial lead, considering that he has converted an impressive nine of ten 54-hole leads over the course of his young career. Nonetheless, the Texan put forth a valiant effort and positioned himself very favourably in the FedEx Cup standings with his runner-up finish. Heading into this week’s Dell Technologies Championship, the 24-year-old trails DJ by only 800 points and can overtake the top spot with a strong performance at TPC Boston.

Spain’s Jon Rahm tied Venezuela’s Jhonattan Vegas for third at 9-under and moved into fifth place overall in the FedEx Cup rankings. He now trails fourth-place Matsuyama, who missed his first cut since February last week, by less than 500 points for the week. Vegas improved 19 spots to 10th overall in the standings as a result of his strong finish and is now well positioned to make a charge for the FedEx Cup over the final three events.

Bubba Watson made the largest jump up the rankings of anyone in the field, improving 41 spots to 72nd overall and earning himself a spot at this week’s event with his T10 finish. Harold Varner III (91st) and David Lingmerth (87th) also played their way into the second round of the playoffs by finishing inside of the Top 30 in New York.

It was, unfortunately, not an ideal week for the four Canadians playing in the Northern Trust Open. Adam Hadwin dropped five spots to 18th overall by missing the cut and Mackenzie Hughes fell three spots to 37th overall after shooting 7-over for the week. Nick Taylor also failed to advance to the weekend and dropped eight spots to 92nd overall, while Graham DeLaet fell to 74th in the rankings after withdrawing from the tournament with a back injury. Even if Hadwin and Hughes miss the cut next week, they will still advance to the BMW Championship. The same cannot be said for Taylor and DeLaet, who will need to play themselves into the Top 70 in the FedEx Cup standings this week in order to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Dave Kaplan is a Toronto-based freelance writer and golf fanatic who is sneaky long off the tee. He’s on a crusade to inject a youthful perspective into golf media, especially the broadcast booth. Follow him on Twitter @davykap