Dustin Johnson Ends Slump With Win at Travelers Championship | Pro Golf Weekly
The inevitable is now official: Dustin Johnson is back to being Dustin Johnson.
One day after shooting a career-low 61 at the Travelers Championship to get within two strokes of the Sunday lead, the man known as DJ shot a 3-under 67 to reach 19-under par for the week at TPC River Highlands – winning the tournament by one stroke over 2014 champion Kevin Streelman.
His 21st career PGA Tour victory, Johnson now has at least one victory in 13 straight seasons. That statistic is even more impressive when considering that he has been on the PGA Tour for 13 seasons. Only five players in Tour history have a longer streak, with legends Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer topping the list at 17 consecutive seasons with a win.
If Johnson were to take at least one event next year, he would tie Tiger Woods and Lee Trevino for fourth all time. Billy Casper sits in-between those two groups at 16 seasons.
The 36-year-old Johnson’s last victory was at the WGC-Mexico Championship in March of last season. Since finishing solo-second to close friend Brooks Koepka at last year’s PGA Championship, he has looked much less himself, failing to record anything better than a T20 over the rest of the season. He had been a bit up-and-down in six 2020 season starts, but had shown some promise of regained form when he followed up his missed cut at the Charles Schwab Challenge (the first event after the three-month COVID-19 layoff) with a T17 at last week’s RBC Heritage.
Now, after a week where his entire game appeared to be clicking, the current world No. 6-ranked golfer, who has spent considerable time atop those rankings, again looks like the man who ranks third among active PGA Tour golfers in career victories.
Sunday was yet another birdie-fest at TPC River Highlands, and Johnson never strayed from, or near, the lead. Beginning the final day two strokes behind Brendon Todd, who was looking to become the first player on Tour to reach three victories on the season, Johnson tied the lead after birdies on Nos. 4 and 5. He relinquished his share of the lead with a bogey on No. 7, but regained it with a birdie on the 8th, and then after another birdie on No. 9, Johnson turned holding a one-shot lead, as Todd made par on each of his first nine holes.
A third consecutive birdie by Johnson on the 10th hole gave pushed him ahead by two strokes. Already with the momentum, Johnson seemed to seize outright control of the tournament on No. 12 as Todd’s approach landed in an awkward lie in deep grass between the green and a bunker.
Todd made a mess of his next three shots, and eventually walked away with a triple-bogey 7. He was now five strokes back of Johnson with just six holes to go.
However, DJ kept the tournament interesting when he hooked his tee shot out of bounds on the the par-5 13th hole, leading to a bogey, and keeping Streelman, and others in the mix.
Johnson birdied 14, and then had the par-save of a lifetime on No. 15, when his tee shot inexplicably stayed dry despite landing on a downslope about a foot from the water.
Standing in the water on his next shot, he failed to get the ball onto the green, and it rolled back down close to where he took the shot. From there, he successfully converted the up-and-down for the par.
With three holes to play, lightning caused a short weather delay, which Johnson later said he was frustrated by, because it forced him to think more than he wanted to when play resumed, while he was just kind of going with the flow beforehand.
A bogey on No. 16 had him just a stroke ahead of Streelman. Johnson parred the 17th to stay in the same position with one hole to go. He then unleashed a 351-yard drive, the longest of the day on 18, down the center of the fairway. His approach landed 19 feet from the hole, and from there, he two-putted for the win.
Johnson’s 19-under final score was the lowest at the event since 2011. Streelman finished one back, with Will Gordon and Mackenzie Hughes finishing two strokes back.
Todd had been stellar all week, having missed just one fairway through three rounds, but appeared to become unraveled after the triple-bogey No. 12, his first hole of worse than par since the fourth hole in round one, a span of 61 bogey-free holes. Todd failed to convert a single birdie on the day, shooting a 5-over 75 that dropped him from first to T11.
Johnson started the Travelers with a pedestrian 1-under 69, but with a 64 on Friday and a 61 on Saturday, he’d posted his best 54-hole score of his career. That gave him some margin of error on Sunday, which he barely needed as his main competition faltered.
DJ did his best work over the week with his putter. Coming into the week, he ranked a dismal 134th on Tour in strokes gained: putting, but made clutch putt after clutch putt on the weekend, as he finished fourth in the field in strokes gained: putting.
Johnson’s 25 birdies for the week ranked second in the field, and he was sixth in both strokes gained: approach-the-green and strokes gained: tee-to-green, leading to his top ranking in strokes gained: total.
Off the Tee: -0.043 (83rd)
Approach the Green: 6.012 (7th)
Tee to Green: 7.305 (7th)
Putting: 5.992 (6th)
Total: 13.298 (1st)
What It Means For Johnson
With the win, Johnson moves to 22nd in the FedExCup standings, but the biggest impact will likely be his confidence moving forward. He had been a little off over the past 12 months, but now that he knows he can win again, we could see a return to his 2016-2018 self, where he won 10 times and recorded 35 top 10s.
As accomplished as Johnson is, his perception is still somewhat plagued by having only won a single major (2016 U.S. Open). With all four majors still forthcoming in the COVID-forced reschedule, it will certainly be interesting to see if he is able to add to that total.
Thanks to a sponsor’s exemption from Travelers, 23-year-old Will Gordon made his eighth PGA Tour start this week, and he made the most of it. Gordon opened his tournament 66-62 to stand just one stroke out of the lead through two rounds.
A 1-over 71 on Saturday took him considerably off championship pace, but he came roaring back on Sunday with a 6-under 64 which jumped him from T12 to solo-third, good enough to get him a special temporary exemption on Tour. Gordon’s 27 birdies led the field for the week.
In this week’s edition of “Golf is Weird,” Ryan Armour came into the week with six missed cuts and a T74 in his last seven Tour starts. Sitting at T22 through three rounds earned the World No. 262 a Sunday pairing with World No. 1 Rory McIlroy.
Armour ranks 214th on Tour in driving distance (Rory is 6th), 215th in strokes gained: putting, and 156th in scoring average (Rory is 2nd). Many golfers in his position would have been completely overwhelmed, but the 44-year-old Armour used four consecutive birdies on the back to shoot a 6-under 64: three strokes BETTER than the 31-year-old McIlroy.
Armour finished T4, his best finish since a runner-up at the 2018 Quicken Loans National. He also managed to finish second in the field in strokes gained: putting.
Doc Redman is making the most of his Tour eligibility, with the Travelers being the 18th start of the 2020 season, placing him among the Tour’s leaders. On Sunday, the 22-year-old Clemson product shot a bogey-free 7-under 63, his lowest round on Tour, which jumped him 27 spots up the leaderboard into a share of 12th, his best finish of the year. The 63 tied former U.S. Open Champion Lucas Glover for Sunday’s field low.
Todd’s collapse was the most notable on Sunday, but he was far from the only player to hurt his final standing with a poor final round. Abraham Ancer has looked on the cusp of stardom for a lot of the past year, and even hit all 18 greens in regulation in the final round of last week’s RBC Heritage, finishing runner-up for the second time this season.
However, the 29-year-old Mexico resident, who played a starring role for the International Squad in last December’s Presidents Cup, had nowhere near the same magic this Sunday. He came into the final round in a tie for eighth, but never got going, with a bogey on the first hole and then pars on the rest of his front nine.
Ancer was modestly better on the back, but a 1-under 69 was very underwhelming for him and he ended up finishing T12. After hitting just 10 of 18 Sunday greens in regulation, Ancer finished T52 for the week in that statistic.
Sunday’s biggest leaderboard dropper was 21-year-old Chilean star Joaquin Niemann, who could only manage one birdie in a 5-over 75 that caused him to plummet 36 spots from T27 to solo 63rd.
The only worse round of the day than Niemann’s 75 was the 9-over 79 carded by former World No. 1 Luke Donald. Now ranked 371st in the world, Donald used a second round 5-under 65 to make the cut, something that three-time Travelers winner Bubba Watson did not even accomplish this week, but he failed to score even a single birdie in his Sunday round.
With just two birdies to 12 birdies and a double over the weekend, Donald faded to solo-68th, dead last among those who made the cut.
In his first event since turning 50 less than two weeks ago, legendary golfer Phil Mickelson looked nowhere near his Champions Tour-eligible age early in the week, following a Thursday 6-under 64 with a 7-under 63 on Friday. Not only was that good for the 36-hole clubhouse lead, but it was the first time in his 624-start, 44-win PGA Tour career that he opened a tournament with two rounds of 64 or better.
It was especially impressive given that he had missed four of his five previous cuts (although the made cut was a solo-third at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am), coming off a season where his final ten starts resulted in five missed cuts and no results better than a T48.
However, despite the fact that he still pipes it off the tees like he’s entering his 20s rather than his 50s, his weekend was exceptionally underwhelming in prime scoring conditions. He shot a 1-over 71 on Saturday to drop from solo-first to T7, six strokes behind Todd’s lead.
Needing a Sunday round comparable to his Friday, Mickelson matched his Saturday 1-over 71 to finish in a share of 24th place. His five weekend birdies were fewer than what he had on Thursday (6) and Friday (8) alone.
Phil did receive some good news this week, though. Coming into the week, he was shockingly, not exempt for this year’s U.S. Open, the remaining major he needs for the career Grand Slam. However, due to restructuring of the tournament qualifications, due to all the golf that was missed during the COVID layoff, he is now officially in the field for the event that he has finished runner-up at seven times.
This year’s U.S. Open will be held in just under three months at Winged Foot Golf Club, the site of Mickelson’s closest call. In the 2006 edition, he held the solo-lead standing on the final tee box, only to hook his drive onto the roof of a hospitality tent, leading to a heartbreaking double-bogey. For him, there really is no better venue for redemption.
“I putted it very nicely this week. Yesterday, I did everything really well. Today, I still felt like I was still hitting the ball really well, I just wasn’t driving it in the fairway, which around here, the only way to be aggressive and attack these flags is being in the fairway, and I didn’t hit it in the fairway enough, but I figured out a way to get it done.”
– Dustin Johnson, Travelers Championship Winner
“Obviously, it’s a great streak and any time you’re mentioned with those names, it’s very good, and I’m definitely proud of myself for continuing the streak, and I want to keep it going, but it was a long time between wins though, so hopefully, it won’t be that long for the next one.”
– Dustin Johnson, on his 13-season win streak