Trying to make sense of Dustin Johnson’s weird and wild two months


NORTON, Mass. — Go ahead and try to figure out Dustin Johnson‘s play since golf returned from its three-month layoff because of the coronavirus pandemic. Fair warning: it might take you a while.

He’s had a win and stunningly low rounds. He’s had missed cuts and head-scratching blow-up rounds. This week, he flirted with history in the second round and, after a strong 7-under 64 on Saturday, enters Sunday’s final round of The Northern Trust with a five-shot lead and a chance at his second win post-shutdown and 22nd of his PGA Tour career.

“Obviously I’m in a great position and like where I’m at, but I’m still going to have to go out and shoot a good score,” he said.

How we got here hasn’t been as simple to follow. Reminder: There’s a lot to digest. Another fair warning: Don’t try to make sense of it — you can’t and won’t.

There was the Charles Schwab Challenge, when he went out and missed the cut in the first event back. No big deal. There was going to be some rust after the layoff and some uncertainty given the new world — no fans, new protocols — sports was stepping back into.

“I didn’t do much practicing over the break, but my swing, it doesn’t tend to get too far off,” he said Saturday. “Just sometimes getting it back on track takes a little bit of time.”

He followed with a solid outing the next week at the RBC Heritage, posting four rounds in the 60s to finish tied for 17th.

A week later, at the Travelers Championship, he shot a career-best 61 in the third round — and that came a day after carding 64 — en route to his 21st career win on the PGA Tour.

All good, right?

Well …

When he re-emerged after a two-week break, he shot consecutive 80s at Muirfield Village to miss the cut at the Memorial.

A blip, right?

Well …

A week later at the 3M Open in Minnesota, he shot 78 in the first round and withdrew with a back injury.

So, he follows a victory with 80-80-78 as he heads into a World Golf Championship event and the PGA Championship, the year’s first major.

Trouble ahead, right?

Well …

Johnson went out and posted four rounds in the 60s to finish tied for 12th at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, then nearly won the PGA Championship. And it wasn’t like he faded down the stretch at TPC Harding Park; he went 65-68 on the weekend, only to be surpassed by an epic late run by eventual winner Collin Morikawa to finish tied for second.

That brings us to this week, when the Dustin Johnson thrill ride went for another spin.

After a solid opening-round 67 at The Northern Trust, the first event in the FedEx Cup playoffs, Johnson put on a show in the second round, one that required regular updates — with exclamation points.

He’s 3 under through two holes!

He’s 6 under through four holes!

He’s 7 under through five holes!

He’s 9 under through eight holes!

He walked to the ninth tee needing one more birdie to shoot 26 — yes, 26 — on the front nine, which would have marked the first time in PGA Tour history a player would have posted 10 under in nine holes. Instead, he settled for a par.

Fun’s over, right?

Well …

He birdied the par 4 10th and rolled in another at the 11th.

He’s 11 under through 11 holes!

“Obviously being 11-under through 11, it was fun for me,” he said Saturday after having a day to think about it. “I would imagine it’s pretty fun to watch, too.”

Suddenly, the buzz wasn’t just that 59 was in play for the second time in one day — Scottie Scheffler became the 11th player in PGA Tour history to post a sub-60 round a few hours earlier — but that Jim Furyk‘s record of 58 might be in jeopardy.

“Obviously you start thinking about it, but I was trying to play one shot at a time,” he said.

Consider this: Johnson was 11 under through 11 holes. One more birdie over the final seven holes and he shoots 59. Two and he shoots 58, which actually would have been better than Furyk’s 58, When he shot the magical number in the 2016 Travelers, it was on a course that played as a par 70. This week, TPC Boston was playing as a par 71, meaning a 58 would have been a 13 under compared to Furyk’s 12 under.

Then the thrill ride came to a stop. Johnson finished with seven consecutive pars, including one at the par-5 finishing hole that has played as the easiest hole all week. (Of course, on Saturday, he maddeningly birdied 17 and eagled 18).

“I wanted to shoot 59,” he said. “I’ve never done it. That would have been nice.”

So, perhaps the first disappointing 60 in the history of golf?

“Any time you shoot a number like that, you’re never going to be disappointed,” Johnson said.

The possibility of a letdown — after a great score, after missing out on history — would hang over his head as he teed off Saturday afternoon in the final group alongside Scheffler. All Johnson did was birdie four holes, against no bogeys, on the front nine to shoot 32. Another 32 on the back and it all added up to a 7-under 64.

“The FedExCup is something I have not won and I would like to win,” he said. “It’s definitely something on my list of goals to accomplish. I would like to be a FedExCup champion.”

First, he’s got to close out The Northern Trust on Sunday. After that, who knows what’s next.

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