Johnson again in position to have FedExCup impact at Tour Championship

ablondin@thesunnews.comSeptember 19, 2012 

  • FedExCup points standings
    1Rory McIlroy2500
    2Tiger Woods2250
    3Nick Watney2000
    4Phil Mickelson1800
    5Brandt Snedeker1600
    6Louis Oosthuizen1400
    7Dustin Johnson1200
    8Lee Westwood1000
    10Jason Dufner600
    11Bubba Watson480
    12Sergio Garcia460
    13Steve Stricker440
    14Keegan Bradley420
    15Luke Donald400
    16Matt Kuchar380
    17Carl Pettersson360
    18Jim Furyk340
    19Bo Van Pelt320
    20Robert Garrigus310
    21Adam Scott300
    22Ernie Els290
    23Hunter Mahan280
    24Justin Rose270
    25Webb Simpson260
    26John Huh250
    27Rickie Fowler240
    28Ryan Moore230
    29John Senden220
    30Scott Piercy210

— Will this be the year Dustin Johnson solves the riddle of East Lake Golf Club?

Johnson has entered the Tour Championship in a good position to win the wealth of riches that is the FedExCup title in each of the past two years, but he hasn’t been able to contend at East Lake despite just a 30-player field.

“One of these days I’m going to do it, and it might be this week,” Johnson said. “I feel good.”

Johnson enters the Tour Championship seventh in points and nearly controls his FedExCup destiny.

To claim the $10 million FedExCup bonus in addition to the $1.44 million winner’s share of the tournament’s $8 million purse, he needs to win and can’t have No. 1 Rory McIlroy finish better than a three-way tie for second or No. 2 Tiger Woods finish alone in second.

The Coastal Carolina alum and former Myrtle Beach resident has performed well in each of the other three playoff events over the past few years. He won the BMW Championship in 2010 and The Barclays in 2011, and this year he has finished inside the top six in each of the three, including a tie for fourth in the Deutsche Bank Championship.

Johnson is the only player with top-10s in each playoff event this year, and is looking to join Rory Sabbatini in 2007 and Padraig Harrington in 2009 as the only players to record top-10s in all four playoff events in one season.

He entered the Tour Championship second in points in each of the past two years and would have claimed the FedExCup title with a win. But he tied for 22nd and 23rd to finish fourth and fifth in the points chase, earning bonuses of $1.5 and $1 million.

The 12th-ranked player in the world and one of the game’s most powerful players, Johnson has just two under-par rounds at the Tour Championship – a 69 his first round in 2009 and a 66 in the final round in 2010 when he was well out of contention.

Six of his 12 rounds at the 7,154-yard par-70 East Lake have been 3-over 73s or worse, and he’s finished no better than a tie for 22nd with a pair of 3-over 283s and a 289 in 2009.

“On this golf course you just have to drive it in the fairway,” Johnson said. “After you drive it in the fairway you’ve really got to hit quality iron shots to get it close to the hole. … You have to hit it in the right spot to have an aggressive putt at the hole because these greens are so fast and have a lot of slope.”

Despite his lack of success at East Lake, Johnson said he doesn’t believe the course sets up poorly for his game, and he isn’t changing his plan of attack, which includes a mix of driver and 3-wood off the tees of the par-4s and par-5s.

“I think I’ve got a good game plan I just have to get it in the fairway,” Johnson said. “I just have to execute. … The fairways are really narrow and if you get a little bit of wind blowing you really have to be spot on off the tee because coming into these greens out of the rough is no fun. You can’t get it close. Bermuda rough is always difficult to control the golf ball.”

During the break in the PGA Tour’s schedule last week, Johnson had an advertisement photo shoot for sponsor TaylorMade-adidas early in the week and visited instructor Butch Harmon last Wednesday and Thursday morning.

He had another practice session with Harmon following his practice round Wednesday – a customary two-man best ball match with Phil Mickelson that on this occasion also included Matt Kuchar and Keegan Bradley.

Johnson has been happy with his short game of late and feels confident with his putter, but believes he needs to hit his driver, woods and irons more consistently to contend this week.

“In the three playoff events I hit it okay,” Johnson said. “By no means was I hitting it extremely well. I’ve been putting it good and chipping it good so I’m not giving away any strokes. But my driving could definitely get better. I’ve hit some really good shots, but I have to get it dialed in a little bit better.”

Johnson has won nearly $17 million in his five years on tour, including nearly $3.2 million this season despite missing three months through the first five months of the year with knee and back injuries.

He’s playing in his 19th event, which is just two less than the 21 he played in last year. Johnson has been cutting back on his PGA Tour schedule since he played in 30 as a rookie in 2008, cutting back to 25 in 2009 and 23 in 2010. He added one European Tour event in 2010 and three in 2011, however.

Johnson’s coming off a stretch of five tournaments in six weeks through the BMW Championship two weeks ago, with a World Golf Championships event, the PGA Championship and the three playoff events in that span.

“I do a good job of spacing out my schedule, and everyone has to play a lot of golf this time of the year, it’s just something you’ve got to do,” Johnson said. “I feel good, I’m healthy and my body feels good. Right now I’m really fresh. Having that week off last week was nice for sure.”

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.

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