Dustin Johnson came-from-behind to defeat 54-hole leaders Davis Love III, Nick O’Hern and John Merrick to win the Fed Ex St. Jude Classic at the TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tennessee. Johnson avoided the water on 18 tee and ended up winning by one shot only after Merrick’s 40-foot-chip shot burned the edge of the 18th hole. Johnson began the day one-shot behind but he got off to a great start with three birdies in his first seven holes. He made his only bogey of the day at nine and turned in 33 before matching that score with two birdies on the back for final round 66. Johnson birdied hole No. 16 to tie the lead and made an eight-footer on 17 to take the lead at nine-under-par. Before him on 18 tee, Rory McIlroy and Chad Campbell, both at eight-under-par at the time, both saw their tee shots find the water so he knew the pressure was on. Johnson crushed a three-wood down the left side, avoided the hazard, and found the fairway. After a GIR and two putts for nine-under 271, Johnson had a one-shot lead over O’Hern and Merrick, who were standing on 18 tee. O’Hern joined McIlroy and Campbell in the watery grave and had no chance; Merrick found the right rough and had 200 yards to get home. His second from the rough came up short and his third burned the edge to give Johnson the victory, his first of 2012. John Merrick was second-alone at 272. Ryan Palmer, Campbell, O’Hern and DL III were T3 273.
Last week at the Memorial we asked if Tiger Woods was “back”. This week, we’ll ask if Dustin Johnson’s back is “back”. Johnson, before last week’s T19 at Memorial, had missed almost three months because of a back injury caused by him moving jet-skis. Johnson, before this victory, had made over 14 million bucks in his career playing golf. HIRE SOMEBODY, BRO, if you need to move stuff. Your back is necessary to smash drives over 320 yards; your back is necessary to bend over and putt; your back is necessary to lift trophies! Rumors that Johnson had been suspended, rather than injured, were rubbished by his agent, David Winkle, last week at the Memorial. Johnson now owns six-career victories at age 27, the most of any player on TOUR under-30. Johnson’s talent has never been in question and he’s backed that up with wins in his last five seasons on TOUR. Prestigiously long off the tee and an excellent iron player Johnson is almost unbeatable if he’s holing putts on the weekend. This week was not any different as Johnson was T18 in driving accuracy and T4 GIR. Johnson, in his victory, was only 43rd in strokes gained-putting. The pressure of a big tee shot on the final hole took out three players but Johnson didn’t blink, hitting 3-wood “only” 305 yards up the left to all but seal his win. Since the tournament moved to TPC Southwind in 1989, only Dicky Pride (1994), Lee Westwood (2011) and now, Dustin Johnson have won in their maiden voyage at this event.
Gamers, Johnson is just the second winner in his 20’s in this event since 2000 (Notah Begay). Veterans usually rule the winner’s circle at TPC Southwind. Johnson is the 13th American to win in the last 14 events at the FedEx St. Jude (Westwood, 2011). I’m no math wizard but this would tell me that veteran, American players are the way to go here in 2013.
I was leery of Johnson last week at Memorial because of his three-month layoff and the rust that I thought would come with it. Johnson finished T19 last week because his putter bailed him out, as it was his ball-striking that was the rusty part of his game. This week, Johnson was back to form as he was splitting fairways and nailing GIR. He improved on GIR each round and his driving accuracy was slightly better (57.1 vs. 56.1 2012) than his yearly average. The other part of his game I liked this week was his scoring. He only made seven bogeys and racked up 50 pars and those are numbers that are awfully steady after being back for only one week. Johnson, along with European Tour winner in Sweden, Lee Westwood, will be trying to break the “jinx” of winning the week before the U.S. Open and claiming the title the following week.
Only eight players since 1945 have won on TOUR the week before a major championship and have gone on to victory the following week. Johnson would join Tiger Woods (2007 WGC-Bridgestone, PGA) Phil Mickelson (2006 Bell South Classic, Masters), Sandy Lyle (1988 GGO, Masters), Lee Trevino (1971 Canadian Open, British Open), Art Wall (1959 Azalea Open, Masters), Sam Snead (GGO, Masters), Ben Hogan (1946 Winnipeg Open, PGA) and Byron Nelson (1945 Chicago Victory, PGA). That would be some list to join at age 27 and a list that will win you a bar bet or three! Johnson played well the last time the U.S. Open was on the West Coast, save for his final round at Pebble Beach in 2010. Johnson will be a factor this week as well if he continues to split fairways and rack up GIR.
Déjà vu All Over Again?
The last 15 of 24 players in stroke play events who led after 54 holes on Tour have lost the lead in the final round. Johnson began the day one-shot behind John Merrick, Nick O'Hern and Davis Love III. We'll count that troika as "one" player for accounting purposes.
The Red, White and Blue have now won 11 of the last 12 FedExCup events dating back to Luke Donald’s win at TC. Carl Pettersson is the other “non-U.S.” (he was recently made a citizen) winner as he captured the RBC Heritage.
With this victory, Dustin Johnson earns $1,008,000 and 500 FedExCup points. He is currently 18th in the season-long standings. Johnson also moves into 10th position on the U.S. Ryder Cup standings.
Young Guns versus Old Guns
In 25 tournaments in 2012 the “Young” versus “Old” has seen the “Middle” was pulling away. The “Young” rebounded this week as Dustin Johnson closed things out in Memphis. The “Middle” guys lead versus “Young” guys has now been cut to 12-11 while the “Old” folks trail with just two wins.
For the “Young”, in order of victory on the calendar, Johnson Wagner (31), Brandt Snedeker (31), Kyle Stanley (24), Bill Haas (29), John Huh (21), Hunter Mahan (29 at the time of his TWO wins), Rory McIlroy (now 23), Justin Rose (31), Rickie Fowler (23) and now Dustin Johnson (27) all have contributed.
The “Middle” has victories from Mark Wilson (37), George McNeill (36), Luke Donald (34), Tiger Woods (36) TWICE, Bubba Watson (33), Carl Pettersson (34), Ben Curtis (34), Matt Kuchar (33), Jason Dufner (35) TWICE and Zach Johnson (36) have the season-long lead.
The “Old” guys that have hoisted the trophy are Steve Stricker (44) and Phil Mickelson (41).
John Merrick: Hard luck found Merrick this week as he was searching for his first-career TOUR victory. Merrick only made five bogeys, two less than Johnson, this week. Merrick made 51 pars, one more than Johnson. He was 11th in strokes gained-putting. He was T12 GIR. He finished T27 in driving accuracy. He was perfect on sand saves. He led the field in scrambling. Merrick almost holed-out a chip-shot on 18 to force a playoff. Sadly for Merrick, he’ll remember the TWO balls in the water on 12 on Sunday that knocked two shots off his card as he made double bogey. Merrick could have been a “horse-for-course” pick this week as he finished T11 here in 2011. In 15 previous events in 2012, Merrick had only made seven cuts and his best finish was T33 at FIO back in February. Spotters badge for you if he was in your line-up this week. Merrick is not playing this week at Olympic Club.
Ryan Palmer: He co-led the field with 18 birdies this week as his hot play continues here in late Spring with another top 10 this week, T3. Palmer makes his money with his flat stick and this week was no different. He was T2 in putts per round and 11th in putts per GIR. Palmer had to have a hot putter as he was in the bottom half in driving accuracy and GIR. In his last five events Palmer has finished in the top 10 in four of them and has had a MC. Palmer takes his T3 this week and adds that to his T5 last time out at CPIC and his T9 before that at HP. Three consecutive weeks in the top 10 is impressive. Hope you hopped on board and enjoyed the ride! Palmer is not playing this week at Olympic but don’t forget about him the next time he tees it up!
Chad Campbell: Known for his ball-striking, Campbell didn’t let gamers down this week with his iron play as he finished T12 GIR. Irons weren’t the problem and neither was his putter as he finished fourth in strokes gained-putting. That combination led to 17 birdies on the week but it was it was his final drive on the final hole that kept Campbell out of the winner’s circle this week. Campbell’s tee ball on 18 found the water and with that shot his hopes of his fifth-career victory on TOUR were shot. Campbell hasn’t won since 2007 Viking Classic. His T3 finish was his best on TOUR since his T5 at the 2011 Open Championship. His best finish in 2012 before this week was T24 twice. Campbell is not playing this week at Olympic Club.
Nick O’Hern: The Aussie was looking to claim his first-career victory on TOUR but he too found a watery grave on 18. This is the longest dry-spell to start a season, 25 events, for Aussies since Adam Scott won the Deutsche Bank Championship in week 37. This week was the third-consecutive week that O’Hern has made the cut. That’s the first time he’s done that in 2012. His T3 is by far his best finish (T27 FIO) of 2012 and his best finish since back-to-back T6 at McGladrey and CMNHC last season. Again, if you had O’Hern in your squad this week, YOU should be writing this column, not me!
Davis Love III: The Ryder Cup Captain is in the midst of a hot-pocket stretch of golf over the last week. He finished T16 at Memorial, qualified for the U.S. Open and backed those both up with a T3 this week. DL III is hard to figure out because he has essentially two jobs right now, TOUR player and Ryder Cup Captain. His captaincy takes him on whirlwind public relations appearances so you wonder how he can balance that commitment with his tournament golf. I think he’s just like most guys on TOUR: if he’s hot, play him. If he’s not, leave him alone. Before his T16 at Memorial, DL III WD at API in March and was MC at THE PLAYERS and CPIC in May. DL III didn’t’ drive it well this week (T51) but still ground out T19 GIR. His putting will have to improve in a hurry if he’s going to factor next week at Olympic Club as he was 53rd in strokes gained-putting.
Ken Duke: Duke’s all-or-nothing season continued according to Hoyle this week, T7, after his MC at Memorial last week. He’s like trying to time the stock market; you just can’t do it. But, if you take him he will hit the top 10 for you about once every five weeks. Duke probably isn’t happy that he will have to take a week off following his final round 65 on Sunday. Duke also made 18 birdies, T1, this week thanks in part to his T12 GIR.
S.Y. Noh: Swing guru Sean Foley said in an interview this week that his initials and name will be known as “Soon You’ll Know” after working with the young man. Seung-Yul Noh finished T7 this week as his hot run of play continued on TOUR. He has now made seven cuts in a row and in that streak he has hit the top 10 twice and the top 13 three times. He’s made the cut in 14 of 18 starts in 2012 and is second on TOUR in birdies made. He hits it a mile and is an excellent putter and that was the strength of his game this week as well. He was T7 strokes gained-putting and T17 in driving distance. He started with 67 and closed with 66 to add his second top 10 of 2012. The next step in this young-man’s game is closing tournaments as this week was only his third round in the 60’s on Sunday in 2012.
Rory McIlroy: The streak is over! Gamers, rejoice! This week McIlroy gave us all what we expect every time he tees it up, a top 10. It’s nice to have that automatic-ness back in business. Sure he cost you a few bucks with his double on 18 on Sunday but at he at least cashed a check this week! Let’s not get too greedy! Moving on to Olympic Club next week I still have reservations about his tee ball and his putting. He missed three or four short putts on Saturday that would have seen him runaway with this tournament. He still shot 65 and had a chance to win on Sunday. Nobody repeats at the U.S. Open, except Curtis Strange, right? At least he won’t have to break the jinx of winning in consecutive weeks like Dustin Johnson will be facing.
Robert Allenby: Welcome back to the Sunday column! Since Allenby fell to John Huh in an eight-hole playoff at Mayakoba, he’s struggled with his game. In nine events leading up to this week, he made six cuts with his best finish being T36. In those nine events, Allenby broke par exactly four times in 29 rounds. His history at this event couldn’t get me past his recent results. The Aussie couldn’t find any birdies on the back nine on Sunday to contend but he did play all four rounds this week in even par or better. Allenby did not qualify for the U.S. Open.
Greg Owen: After his T11 this week Owen has now made four cuts in a row. Owen started his run at HP where he finished T29. The following week he finished T31 CPIC and was T9 at Jack’s Place last week. Owen is an excellent iron player, currently ranking eighth in GIR on TOUR this year. This week was no different as he finished T6 in GIR and that helped to a closing-round five-under 65. Putting has been the soft spot on his resume but he held it together this week to make 18 birdies, T1 for the week. Put him on your radar for the next few weeks.
Kevin Stadler: He has made the cut in 12 of 15 starts of 2012. Even better, he’s hit the top 25 nine times. He backed up his T16 at Memorial last week with T11 this week. Stadler’s formula for success is a pretty solid one: First in driving accuracy and first in GIR. He also finished 21st in strokes gained-putting. The only blemishes that kept Stadler from getting his first-career win were a pair of double bogeys on the weekend. He played the weekend in one-over-par. Stadler should be a fantasy lock in thin field events this summer.
“Hey, whatever happened to…”
Zach Johnson: I blame myself. I didn’t project him to win at Colonial (I had him second on my list, relax) and he did. I projected him to win this week; he didn’t. My bad. Won’t happen again, promise. Five birdies and seven bogeys will definitely make the cut this week at Olympic Club. Johnson’s iron game let him down this week but it’s a blip on the radar for me. He’s played too well over the last three months to let his first MC of 2012 to influence your decision for the U.S. Open. No doubt he’s on my list come Tuesday.
David Toms: The two-time champion at FedEx St. Jude has now MC in his last two events since his T10 at THE PLAYERS. Toms fired 74-75 and made only two birdies this week in Memphis. He fired 74-71 the week before at CPIC and only made three birdies.
These two venues are places where Toms has won in the past. If he’s not playing well on those tracks, I’m not sure I would try him in other places. It’s time to be concerned.
Kyle Stanley: Remember him? If you read this column, you won’t because he hasn’t hit the top 10 since his victory at WMPO. Stanley made the cut for the first time in five events this week with his T49. Does this mean he should be back on your radar? No. This is an example of how not to pick guys SOLELY based on their FedExCup Standings. Stanley is currently 15th.
Graeme McDowell: The 2010 U.S. Open champion didn’t put the “jinx” on his game this week either as he was MC. He made nine bogeys and three birdies in his short week. I wouldn’t be concerned. This was GMAC’s first appearance in the States since THE PLAYERS in May. He’s too good of a ball-striker to count out next week. I wouldn’t let this result influence anything about the U.S. Open.
Luke Guthrie: Who? What? Huh? No, not Huh, Guthrie. Anyhow, Guthrie is the NCAA champion from the University of Illinois who played his first professional event this week. Oh, and he finished T19. He was T11 after three rounds. He only made eight bogeys in his TOUR debut. I would get to know his name and his game. Head’s up!