(Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
By Christopher Powers
Dustin Johnson didn’t appear to have his best stuff early Sunday in the final round of the FedEx St. Jude Classic, and it likely still would have been enough to hold off Andrew Putnam, who went on to card a two-over 72. If he was able to turn it on, DJ had the opportunity to run away from the field, similar to how he ran away at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, his first victory this season.
Ultimately, that’s exactly what happened thanks to a slippery, 15-foot par save at the par-4 12th, one Johnson pointed to after the round as a turning point. From there, Johnson made birdies at 13 and 16, and then holed out for eagle with a 9-iron from 171 yards at the 18th. The shot emphatically closed out his 18th career PGA Tour victory and took him back to the World No. 1 spot he owned for 64 straight weeks until being displaced by Justin Thomas last month.
It was an incredible final six-hole stretch that had to be a scary sight for Johnson’s competitors next week at Shinnecock Hills, where he’ll look to become the first player ever to win the week before the U.S. Open and then claim the USGA’s signature championship.
“I’m glad it’s over, for sure,” Johnson said. “What a cool way to end the day, to hole that shot there on 18. Obviously a lot of good things happened this week. I knew coming in I was swinging really well and a lot of confidence in the game, I played really well all week.
“I wasn’t really comfortable until I made that nice putt on 12 for par, and that kind of gave me the boost I needed. I was a little flat starting the day, really couldn’t get anything going. Made that nice putt there on 12, then hit a good drive, good second shot on 13, made birdie. Hit a lot of good shots coming in. It was nice to be back in the hunt, to have the lead, get the juices flowing, feels like it’s been a long time and it’s only been six months. It was a lot of fun though.”
The win is Johnson’s second this season and his second in the event, the first coming in 2012. It moves him into a tie for 43rd on the all-time PGA Tour wins list, joining a group that includes Hall-of-Famers Nick Price and Julius Boros. He’s also tied with Tiger Woods for the most victories since 2008. Next week, he’ll look to capture his second major championship, where he’ll likely be the betting favorite after his performance in Memphis.
“I have high expectations going into every week,” he said. “Feel like the game’s in good shape. I’m driving it well, I’m really hitting my irons well. I’m looking forward to next week. I haven’t seen the golf course yet, but I’ll go out and get 18 holes in tomorrow and go from there.”
Putnam, who had made just one bogey through 54 holes, struggled out of the gate on Sunday, making a double bogey at the par-4 first that proved to be too much to overcome. He did still finish in solo second at 13-under 267, six shots back of Johnson but four strokes ahead of third-place J.B. Holmes. It’s the best finish of Putnam’s career on the PGA Tour.
“I had a lot of fun, felt like I handled myself better than my score looked,” Putnam said. “Just didn’t have some putts go my way, first couple holes were a little rough, but overall I felt like I had a great time. Dustin obviously played pretty solid, definitely learn from these experiences.”
Holmes posted a final-round 67 to finish in solo third at nine-under 271. Stewart Cink and Richy Werenski tied for fourth at eight-under 272.