HARTFORD, Conn. – The first winner of the PGA Tour’s New England “Daily Double” is a first-time FedExCup champion.
Dustin Johnson, who captured the Travelers Championship on June 28 and The Northern Trust two weeks ago, finished off his best season Monday with a three-stroke victory over Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele in the Tour Championship, clinching his first FedExCup title at East Lake in Atlanta, Ga.
It’s the same guy who shot two 80s in the Memorial Tournament and then withdrew after an opening 78 in his next start in the 3M Open due largely to an ailing knee. But that followed the PGA Tour’s three-month break because of the COVID-19 pandemic that enabled Johnson to get physically fit and win his third start by a stroke over Kevin Streelman in the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, shooting a then-career-low, 9-under-par 61 in the third round.
Sunday, the resilient and unflappable Johnson grabbed at least a share of the third-round lead for the fourth consecutive tournament, including shooting a stunning 30-under-par 254 for an 11-stroke victory in The Northern Trust, the first of the three FedExCup playoff events at TPC Boston in Norton, Mass. That included a new career-low, 11-under 60 in the second round in which he parred the final seven holes.
After losing the BMW Championship on Jon Rahm’s improbable 66-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole, Johnson capped his season with a 2-under 68 for a 72-hole total of 21-under 269 and his 23rd career PGA Tour title that solidified his hold on No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings and all but assured being named Player of the Year.
The victory enabled Johnson to earn the two titles that he said he so much desired before the season-ending tournament began.
“It’s such a difficult course so no lead is safe, and the guys gave me a good fight,” said Johnson, who began the day with a five-stroke lead after making marginal changes to his setup during the week. “But I got off to a good start and hit the fairways down the stretch when I had to. I wanted to be a FedExCup champion, and I’m really proud of the way that I’ve played, especially in the last four tournaments.
“I’ve had some good chances in the past, and I knew I had some really good players behind me. I’m definitely playing the best I’ve ever played. Everything has been pretty dialed in, I’ve got every part of my game in gear, so I’m going to take a few days off and then get ready for the U.S. Open (on Sept. 17-20 at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, N.Y.)”
It was the 36-year-old Johnson’s third consecutive three-win season, a feat accomplished only by World Golf Hall of Famers Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods. He also has reached that plateau four of the past five years after the bitter disappointment of being assessed a two-stroke penalty on the final hole that cost him a shot at a playoff in the 2010 PGA Championship won by Martin Kaymer over three-time Travelers Championship winner and having to withdraw from the 2012 Masters after injuring his back at home a month before the year’s first major began.
“He sure played some golf and really earned this,” said NBC analyst Paul Azinger, a two-time winner of the Canon Greater Hartford Open.
“Dustin, you’ve had your sights set on this (FedExCup) trophy for a while, and you played some amazing golf this year, especially the last four weeks,” said PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, a native of Belmont, Mass., who graduated from Trinity College in Hartford.
The finale ended up a family affair as Johnson’s brother, Austin, is his caddie, and his wife, Paulina, the daughter of NHL legend Wayne Gretzky, surprised her husband on the 18th green to congratulate him. Wayne Gretzky has imposed some of his greatness and drive on Johnson to help him reach even more of his seemingly endless potential that has earned him an almost certain spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
After finishing in a tie for second in the year’s first major, the PGA Championship, Johnson notched the runaway win at TPC Boston, got edged by Rahm in the BMW Championship and then took the third-round lead for a fourth consecutive start, the first player to accomplish that since Woods in 1999. He shot an astonishing 56 under par in the last four events and has now won 10 of the 21 times that he has led after 54 holes. He has captured a record six FedExCup titles and qualified for the Tour Championship for 12 consecutive years, having not played in 2014 because of “personal challenges.” On Aug. 1, conflicting reports surfaced regarding his announcement, with Golf Magazine saying Johnson had been suspended for six months after testing positive for cocaine. The magazine said it was the third positive test after a 2010 positive for marijuana and 2012 positive for cocaine, but PGA Tour officials said Johnson was taking a voluntary leave and was not under suspension.
Johnson also three-putted the 18th hole, missing a 3-footer for par, to hand the 2015 U.S. Open to Jordan Spieth, the 2017 Travelers Championship winner. In the ensuing major, the Open Championship at the Old Course at St. Andrews, Scotland, Johnson led after 36 holes but shot two 75s to fall out of contention as Zach Johnson won in a playoff. And the day before the 2017 Masters, Johnson fell down a staircase in his Augusta home that he was renting, suffered a back injury and had to withdraw.
In 2019, Johnson tied for second in the Masters, one stroke behind Woods, and then finished second in the PGA Championship, two shots behind Brooks Koepka, his longtime friend and workout partner. That made Johnson the eighth player to have finished runner-up in all four majors, and on Monday, the PGA Tour Player of the Year in 2016 when he won the U.S. Open, put all past disappointments and successes behind him, realized a major goal and earned a $15 million bonus as the season-long champion.
Johnson was staked to a two-stroke lead starting out as the No. 1 seed in the FedExCup and became the first person in that position to win the title since Woods in 2009. He kept his challengers at bay early when he birdied three of the first six holes. Schauffele, who seems to bring his best at big moments, and Thomas each got within three shots on the front nine after Johnson bogeyed Nos. 7 and 8 and closed within two on the back nine. But Johnson gave a slight fist pump – big emotion for him – when he made a 20-foot par putt on the 13th hole that kept his lead at three. He made pars on the back nine until the outcome was no longer in doubt, putting an exclamation point to the proceedings with a 5-foot birdie putt on the final hole.
Third-seeded Thomas, who bogeyed the 17th hole after a wild tee shot, and Schauffele each shot 66 to finish at 272, one ahead of No. 2 seed Rahm, who also closed with 66. Schauffele had the lowest score over 72 holes at 15-under 265, but without a victory this year, he started at No. 14 in the FedExCup standings, spotting the world’s No. 1 seven shots. Scottie Scheffler, who a year ago was getting ready to start his rookie season, had a 66-65 finish and was fifth.
So the strangest season in PGA Tour history ended with the best player in the world on top after becoming the first to win the two New England stops in the same year. The new season starts Thursday with the Safeway Open in California, and two majors, the U.S. Open and Masters, will played in the next six weeks.
Johnson was 111th in the FedExCup standings when play resumed in early June, but now he has the prizes that he desperately wanted.
“It’s a very tough trophy to win,” Johnson said. “I controlled my own destiny, but I still had to go out and play well. I had a lot of great players right behind me. It got close at the end. I knew it was going to come down the stretch, and I’d have to hit some golf shots.”