Johnson starting to like East Lake Golf Club

ablondin@thesunnews.comSeptember 23, 2012 

— Dustin Johnson is starting to warm up to East Lake Golf Club.

Which is good considering the Tour Championship is scheduled to be held at the course again for at least another year, and Atlanta-based Coca-Cola is contracted to be the primary sponsor through 2016.

Johnson shot an even-par 70 in Sunday’s final round to complete his best finish in four visits to the Tour Championship at the 7,319-yard par-70 course with a tie for 10th at 1-under-par 279, nine shots behind winner Brandt Snedeker. Johnson’s best previous finish was a tie for 22nd at 3-over 283.

“It’s my best finish by far here, so I’m kind of happy with it,” Johnson said. “I’m getting better each year. I really like the place. It’s hard – 8-, 9- or 10-under wins every year. I just haven’t played worth a [darn] here.”

Johnson entered the finale of the four-tournament FedEx Cup playoffs seventh in FedEx points and finished eighth to earn a $600,000 bonus in addition to the $205,760 he earned from the tournament’s $8 million purse.

Johnson finished fourth and fifth in the last two FedEx points chases to earn combined bonuses of $2.5 million.

He joined 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. Johnson finished tied for third, fourth and sixth in the first three tournaments this year.

He headed to Chicago following the round ready for his second Ryder Cup appearance this week at Medinah Country Club.

“My game is pretty good right now,” Johnson said. “I’ve got a few things I can work on, but I’m looking forward to next week. I am playing good, I’m playing solid, I’m contending again in every event, which is what I want to do. I’m very pleased with how things are going right now.”

Cameron Hooper, a Morgan Stanley financial advisor and Johnson’s former Coastal Carolina teammate and roommate, filled in for injured caddie Bobby Brown for the third consecutive day.

Brown has a lower back injury and Hooper was a spectator before replacing him on the 11th hole in Friday’s second round.

Regarding Brown’s diagnosis, Johnson said, “I think it’s a herniated disc or a bulging disk. That’s what they think it is. He’s been getting some work on it. But something’s not right.”

Johnson missed nearly three months this year from March to June with a lower back injury, so he’s familiar with the possible repercussions. He’s not sure if Brown will be available for Ryder Cup duty.

“It just depends on how bad it is,” Johnson said. “The lower back, there’s nothing you can really do for it. You can do manual work and massaging and stuff like that, but really only time will tell. There’s nothing really you can do to fix it.”

Johnson said if Brown can’t go, possible replacements are Hunter Mahan’s caddie John Wood, longtime tour caddie Tony Navarro, or TaylorMade Vice President of Tour Operations Keith Sbarbaro, who has caddied for Johnson at last year’s Presidents Cup, as well as 2011 events in Australia, Korea and Germany at points when Johnson was between loopers.

“[Brown] said he was feeling a little better today, but he’s going to continue to get some treatment and hopefully he’ll be ready for next week,” Johnson said. “Hopefully he’ll be ready to go, if not we’ve got a few guys on standby that are ready to jump in. We’ll see what’s going on next week.”

Johnson hit 5 of 7 fairways and 7 of 9 greens in regulation on the front nine before struggling with accuracy on the back and hitting just one fairway and three greens. He was opportunistic, however, capitalizing on two of those hit greens on the back with an 8-foot eagle putt on the par-5 15th and a 54-foot birdie putt on the 17th to offset bogeys on holes 10, 16 and 18.

Johnson also holed a 50-foot birdie putt on the sixth hole, and made a bogey with a missed 13-foot par putt on the par-5 ninth after wind knocked his 110-yard approach into a front bunker.

“I felt I played pretty good today and I just couldn’t really get anything going,” Johnson said. “It was playing really tough out there. And the times I did hit really good shots and got in there close I didn’t make them.”

The long birdie putt on the 17th hole was necessitated by Johnson’s misreading of the yardage without his normal caddie. Johnson said he was 10 yards off and thought the pin was 138 yards away when it was actually 128. “It was just one of those days,” Johnson said.

Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.

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