ATLANTA — Dustin Johnson got a little help from an old friend Friday, and used it to play his way into contention in the second round of the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club.
Cameron Hooper, Johnson’s former teammate and roommate at Coastal Carolina University, filled in for injured caddie Bobby Brown on the final eight holes, which Johnson played 3-under par to shoot a 3-under 67.
Johnson birdied holes 13, 14 and 15 for a 3-under 32 on the back nine to move into a tie for fifth at 4-under 136, three shots behind leader Jim Furyk, who carded a 64 Friday.
“I owe my boy Hoop big time,” Johnson said.
Hooper, a financial advisor for Morgan Stanley in Atlanta, was called in from outside the ropes after a back injury forced Brown from the round on the 11th hole, and Hooper caddied the final eight holes in loafers with no socks.
“Let’s put boat shoes on and make some money,” Hooper quipped. “The first couple holes my hands had a little shake to them, I’m not going to lie. But it was pretty calming inside the ropes. It was exciting, it was fun.”
Johnson is in unfamiliar territory on the Tour Championship leaderboard. He has never been better than 3-over par through two rounds in his three previous visits to East Lake, and has never finished better than 22nd.
“It’s different. I actually can try on the weekend now,” Johnson said. “Before when I was so far back, of course I was trying, but especially when it’s one of your last tournaments of the year, when you’re in the back of the pack it’s hard to get motivated.
“Right now I’ve got motivation, so it’s different and I like it.”
Johnson is not only in contention for the $1.44 million winner’s check in the $8 million Tour Championship, he also entered the event seventh in FedEx Cup points and has a strong chance to claim the $10 million FedEx bonus with a win.
Johnson was even par on the front with a bogey on the fourth hole and birdie on the par-5 ninth with a chip to 6 feet.
The former Myrtle Beach resident hit 6 of 7 fairways and 8 of 9 greens on the back nine after hitting just two fairways and seven greens on the front.
“The only way I have an advantage here is if I drive it on the fairway,” Johnson said. “I did that on the back nine and I played well. I shot 3 under on the back and had a lot of good looks, a few that could have gone in that didn’t. … I hit really good shots, controlled my distance well on the back side and rolled in a couple putts.”
Johnson birdied the par-4 13th with a 311-yard drive and 173-yard approach to 4 feet, the par-4 14th with a 318-yard drive and wedge to 11 feet, and the par-5 15th with a bunker shot to 4 feet despite being short-sided in the front bunker.
He had two additional birdie putts on the back nine inside 12 feet, and three more inside 30 feet.
“I just started swinging better,” Johnson said. “I don’t know how or what happened, I just started swinging better and hitting shots where I was looking, so I was pretty happy with that.”
Johnson said Brown told him he heard something pop in his lower back Friday morning while he was putting on his socks. “That’s his story and he’s sticking to it,” Johnson joked. “He could have made it but he was struggling. I said, ‘Dude, there’s no reason for you to be out here, I’ve got friends out here who can carry the bag, it’s fine.’ ”
“… I could tell [he was hurting], you could just look at him. He couldn’t keep up with me, he couldn’t bend down. It was kind of funny. I dropped [things] on the ground on purpose because I knew he couldn’t get them.”
Hooper played five months on the NGA Tour (formerly Hooters Tour) early last year but he struggled with a rib injury and decided to instead make use of Master’s degree in business from CCU.
He had never caddied prior to Friday, and was taken aback when Johnson called for him to accept the caddie bib. He looked around to make sure Johnson was talking to him.
“Cameron has played golf before, so I figured he’d at least know what to do,” Johnson said. “That way I don’t have to tell him everything to do. I’ve had friends caddie before and it’s more work for me to have one of them caddie than it is for them.”
Johnson joined Hooper in intently studying yardage books before approach shots. “I look at them when Bobby is doing it, too, maybe not as much because he always gets the number,” Johnson said. “But I still double check a lot of times. [Hooper] was getting the numbers too and he was spot on. He’s played golf his whole life so he knows what the deal is.”
Hooper the bag-carrying looper is on call Saturday in case Brown can’t go. “I’ll wear tennis shoes tomorrow, just in case,” he said.
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.