The PGA Tour got the drama it has wanted from its playoff format and the season-ending Tour Championship, and the person who is probably least appreciative is Dustin Johnson.
Seldom has anyone had reason to be so disappointed to win $3 million.
Rory McIlroy was the one player in the top six in the Tour Championship entering Sunday’s final round who had a reasonable chance of denying Johnson the $10 million prize for winning the FedExCup points title, and the four-time major champion did just that with some spectacular late shot-making.
McIlroy earned a sweep of both the Tour Championship and FedExCup titles with a birdie on the fourth hole of a playoff with Ryan Moore after shooting a 6-under-par 64 in a final round that included a hole-out for eagle from 137 yards on the 16th hole and a birdie on the 18th.
Johnson was relegated to watching the playoff drama unfold on a television in the players’ locker room.
“It was kind of fun to watch,” Johnson said. “Obviously I was pulling for Ryan, but still even if Ryan would have won it and I would have won the FedEx, it still wouldn’t have felt right just because I didn’t win the Tour Championship.
“I would have liked it, but it still wouldn’t have felt as good as if I would have won the Tour Championship. … My wallet would have felt good.”
The playoff began with three players, as Kevin Chappell also tied for the 72-hole lead at 12-under 268 but was eliminated with a par on the first playoff hole. Johnson would have claimed the season-long points title had either Moore or Chappell won.
But McIlroy’s win dropped Johnson to second in FedExCup points, which is worth $7 million less than the title.
Johnson began Sunday in position to win the $11.53 million that McIlroy collected for both the Tour Championship and FedExCup titles, as he began the final round tied for the lead with Chappell at 8 under.
But the Coastal Carolina alumnus shot a 3-over 73 to tie for sixth and become an invested spectator in the playoff.
“I knew I controlled my own destiny, and you know I just didn’t have it today. Everything was just a little bit off,” Johnson said. “It seemed like every time I hit one down the edge of the fairway it would just go in the rough like 6 inches and have the worst lie ever, and around here you’ve got to hit the fairway. And I didn’t roll the ball that great today. I felt like I rolled it okay, I just didn’t make anything – nothing.”
The 2015-16 PGA Tour season may still be remembered as the year of Dustin Johnson, however.
With three significant victories, Johnson is expected to be a shoe-in for the PGA Tour Player of the Year Award, which is determined through a player vote.
He matched Jason Day for a tour-high three wins, and Johnson joined Tiger Woods as the only players to capture a major, World Golf Championships title and FedExCup Playoffs event in the same year. Day’s biggest win was The Players Championship, and Johnson had 15 top-10s compared to Day’s 10.
“It was a really good year,” said Johnson, who will conclude his season as a member of Team USA in the Ryder Cup this upcoming weekend at Hazeltine National in Minnesota.
Johnson was coming off eight consecutive rounds in the 60s as well as four consecutive rounds in the 60s at East Lake.
He birdied the third hole to maintain a share of the lead, but stumbled with three bogeys in four holes on the front nine, and a double bogey on the 12th hole dropped him to 5 under, out of contention for the tournament and perilously close to losing his lead in FedExCup points.
Johnson steadied to close with six consecutive pars for a 3-over 73 to tie for sixth at 5-under 275. Though that closed the door on Moore and Chappell, who needed Johnson to finish as low as eighth or ninth, respectively, to have a chance at $10 million, it opened the door for McIlroy, who needed Johnson to finish in a tie for second or worse to have a chance.
McIlroy was 3 under for his round and three behind Chappell with just three holes to play when he holed a wedge from 137 yards for an eagle, the ball taking three hops and a slight turn to the right to drop in the cup.
“I knew I needed to do something at that point,” said McIlroy, who celebrated in the fairway with youthful exuberance. “The holed shots from the fairway, it’s part skill, but there’s an epic part of luck in there as well, and I took advantage of it and made birdie at the last.”
McIlroy came within an inch of holing a bunker shot for an eagle on the 573-yard par-5 18th hole – the tour flipped East Lake’s nines this year to finish on a potentially more dramatic par-5 rather than a par-3 – and tapped in for birdie, then had to wait for Moore and Chappell to finish.
Either Moore, a winner of five PGA Tour events including this year’s John Deere Classic, or Chappell, who is winless on tour and is now a four-time runner-up this season, could have denied McIlroy the playoff and handed Johnson the FedExCup title in regulation. But both missed opportunities despite shooting rounds of 64 and 66, respectively.
Chappell missed a 9-foot par putt on the 17th hole to drop into a tie for the lead and could get within only 23 feet for birdie from 110 yards on the 18th before two-putting for par. Moore had an 8-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to win and it caught the right side of the hole but lipped out, causing Moore to bend over in despair.
“There was a lot of things that had to go right for me today, in terms of Ryan didn’t birdie the last in regulation, neither did Kevin. Obviously D.J. didn’t have his best day,” McIlroy said. “So there’s a lot of things that had to go well for me today along with me playing very well. So everything just sort of aligned for me. I took advantage of that opportunity.”
In the playoff, McIlroy hit a 210-yard approach to 6 feet on the 18th hole but missed the eagle putt to win, beginning a fist pump as the ball caught the inside of the right lip before transforming it into the lifting his hat in consternation when the putt lipped out. Moore had already holed a 10-foot birdie putt to continue the playoff.
Neither Moore nor McIlroy had good looks at birdies on the next two playoff holes, and Moore holed a 17-foot par putt after an aggressive chip on the fourth playoff hole – the 454-yard par-4 16th – as McIlroy looked over a 15-footer for birdie.
McIlroy let out a scream of exultation as the putt dropped.
McIlroy was winless on the PGA Tour this year prior to winning the Deutsche Bank Championship, the second of the tour’s four playoff events that culminate with the Tour Championship, to enter the Tour Championship sixth in FedExCup points.
“A lot of things had to go right for me today, and they did. Everything fell into place,” McIlroy said. “Thankfully I won the tournament and the FedExCup, too.”
McIlroy, who entered the 2012 Tour Championship and 2014 playoffs leading the FedExCup points race but failed to capture either title, said he did not feel the need to issue Johnson an apology after his heist of this year’s jackpot.
“No, because I’ve had this FedExCup taken away from me twice before, so I know exactly how he feels,” McIlroy said.