ATLANTA • When Dustin Johnson left East Lake last year, after finishing in last place, he was headed for an operating table.
On Monday, he left with his first FedExCup, one of the few accomplishments that was missing from a resume worthy of the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Johnson is the champion of a season unlike any other. He did it with a month that reminded us of how easy he can make the game look.
This season was anything but. The world No. 1 had surgery on his knee less than two weeks after last year’s Tour Championship and didn’t play until the Presidents Cup in December.
He made just four starts before the PGA Tour season was shut down for three months by the coronavirus pandemic.
Even after his first win of the season – the Travelers Championship in June – he shot back-to-back 80s at Memorial the following month.
“I’ve never seen him that lost,” said third-ranked Justin Thomas, who played with him that week.
But Johnson is known for his ability to recover from setbacks and tough losses.
Perhaps that is why he is a fitting champion for this season.
After beating just one player at Memorial and withdrawing from his next start because of a back injury, Johnson put on an impressive display over his final four starts.
He closed the season with two wins and two runners-up. He was the 54-hole leader in all four events.
- PRIZE MONEY IN ONE MONTH
• Winner of Sept 4-7 Tour Championship (US$15 million, S$20.6 million, as FedExCup champion)
• Second at Aug 27-30 BMW Championship (US$1 million)
• Winner of Aug 20-23 Northern Trust (US$1.7 million)
• Second at Aug 6-9 PGA Championship (US$968,000)
Only two 64s – from Collin Morikawa at the PGA Championship and Jon Rahm at the BMW Championship – and two of the season’s most incredible shots could stop Johnson during that closing stretch.
After winning last month’s Northern Trust by 11, he then sealed the Tour Championship on Monday with a final round two-under 68 for a total 21-under 269.
The three-shot victory over fellow Americans Xander Schauffele and Thomas, the 2017 FedExCup champion, meant that Johnson finally took home the US$15 million (S$20.6 million) payday after qualifying for East Lake in each of the last 12 seasons.
“Being a FedExCup champion is something that I really wanted to do,” he said. “I wanted to hold that trophy at the end of the day. It was something that I wanted to accomplish during my career.”
The 2016 US Open winner is the unquestioned top player in the game right now.
His three victories this season tied Thomas for the most on the Tour. The 36-year-old, with a second place at the season’s only Major, is also the favourite to be voted PGA Player of the Year by his peers.
What a difference a year makes.
Johnson could barely beat anyone by the end of last season because of his knee and just three months ago, after missing the cut at the Charles Schwab Challenge in June, he was 115th in the FedEx Cup points list.
Praising his Presidents Cup teammate, Thomas said: “He was putting so bad, playing so bad. But he never gave up. He wasn’t quitting… then next thing you know, what, two months later he’s the FedExCup champion and running away. That’s all you need to know about golf right there.”
Because of his injuries and struggles, Johnson has been overshadowed by workout buddy Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy over the last two years.
But not anymore.
“Obviously I’m playing very well now,” he said. “I feel like I can play better, though.”
That is a scary thought.