ATLANTA — Dustin Johnson began the 2013 season with a win, and he was attempting to end it with one Sunday to become the first player since Sam Snead in 1946 to record bookend victories to a PGA Tour season.
He began the final round of the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club alone in second place, four shots behind leader Henrik Stenson.
Though he made a run with four birdies in six holes on the back nine, Johnson was never able to pull closer than three shots and settled for fifth at 8-under-par 272 following a 1-under 69.
Stenson shot a 68 Sunday to claim the Tour Championship by three strokes at 13-under 267. His victory also earned him a $10 million bonus as winner of the FedExCup playoffs and season-long points championship.
Johnson narrowly qualified for the finale of the four-event playoffs as the last man in the 30-player field, and his fifth-place finish is the highest at East Lake by the 30th seed in the seven years of the playoff system.
The Coastal Carolina alumnus moved up from 30th to 13th in FedExCup points with his play, improving his bonus payout from $175,000 to $280,000. He also earned $320,000 from the $8 million Tour Championship purse for his fifth-place finish.
The top five players in the FedExCup standings all earn at least $1 million in bonuses, and Johnson would have moved into the top five with a win Sunday.
But he was unable to put any true early pressure on Stenson. He bogeyed three of the first 10 holes to play them 1 over, and missed birdie putts of 16, 14 and 12 feet in that stretch.
The missed 14-foot putt on the 220-yard second hole came after Johnson nearly holed his tee shot, landing the ball a couple inches from the cup.
Johnson holed a 16-foot birdie putt from the back fringe of the third green to pull within three shots. But he bogeyed the par-4 fifth after leaving his approach 80 feet short and a putt from the fringe 20 feet short, and bogeyed the par-3 sixth after rolling a short chip 7 feet past the hole and missing the putt.
Johnson birdied the 604-yard par-5 ninth hole with a 370-yard downhill drive and two-putt from 43 feet to make the turn even par for the round, but that was followed by another bogey when he missed the 10th green from 180 yards in the fairway and missed an 8-foot par putt to fall six strokes behind.
“I made a few bogeys early that cost me a little bit, just bad bogeys,” Johnson said.
That’s when his rally began. He hit his tee shot on the 198-yard, par-3 11th to 4 feet for birdie – Stenson also birdied the hole from 10 feet – and rolled in an 11-foot birdie putt on the par-4 12th. Johnson had good looks at birdies from 11 and 24 feet on the 13th and 14th holes but settled for pars.
He chipped to 5 feet for a birdie on the par-5 15th despite a drive well left of the fairway, and holed a 19-foot birdie putt on the par-4 16th to reach 3 under for the round and 10 under for the tournament and pull within three shots with two holes to play.
“I made a really good run on the back nine [until 17],” Johnson said.
An unlucky bounce off a spectator contributed to a triple-bogey on the par-4 17th hole that ended Johnson’s chances. His drive was to the right of a trio of bunkers along the right side of the fairway. The ball struck a spectator in the leg and bounced into an awkward lie in the rough in a downslope just above a bunker.
Johnson’s second shot found the back of a greenside bunker, his third shot stopped in the grass face of the bunker, a chip was left 55 feet short and he three-putted for the triple-bogey 7.
“If it stays up top there to the right it’s fine; I’ve got a decent look at it from there,” Johnson said. “But from where it ended up it was bad, and it just got worse from there.”
Johnson hit a 4-iron to 5 feet on the 235-yard par-3 18th to close with a birdie and move into fifth. “I came back and made a good birdie on the last hole,” he said.
Johnson entered the Tour Championship searching for his game. He believes he found it at East Lake.
“I’m just glad the golf game is starting to come back around, giving myself a chance to win,” said Johnson, a seven-time tour winner whose victory in the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions was his only one this year. “I feel like I finally got my golf game back. I’m swinging good, putting it good. I need to do a little work on the short game but other than that we’re all right.”
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.