The putts finally dropped for Dustin Johnson at Quail Hollow Club, allowing the world’s No. 1 player to end a disappointing week with a top-15 finish at the 99th PGA Championship.
Johnson shot a 4-under-par 67 to improve to even-par 284 and tie for 13th. He began the final round tied for 47th following rounds of 70, 74 and 73.
After making eight birdies through the first three rounds, he made seven birdies in his first 15 holes Sunday.
“I played a little better today. I scored better,” Johnson said. “I holed the putts inside 10 feet for the most part. I just played more solid today. The game’s there. It’s definitely there, and it’s only going to get better from here.”
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The Coastal Carolina alumnus birdied holes 1, 4, 7 and 8 on the front nine with putts of 8, 6 and 27 feet, and a two-putt from 20 feet. He added back-nine birdies on the 10th, 14th and 15th holes with a 9-foot putt and deft chips of more than 60 feet to 3 and 2 feet.
“I felt like I played today about like I did all week. I just putted just a little bit better,” Johnson said. “I made the shorter putts. That was the key for me today. … If I had putted halfway decent the first few days then I never shoot over par and I’m right there in the tournament for sure.”
Johnson’s major season looked promising entering the week of the Masters Tournament. He had won three consecutive tournaments and was poised to contend at Augusta, where his results have steadily improved. But he fell on stairs on the eve of the Masters and injured his back. He missed the Masters, missed the cut at the U.S. Open and tied for 54th at the British Open.
Going into Augusta I'm playing the best golf of my career. Everything is working very well, and then unfortunately I didn't get to play the Masters and then just struggled a little bit this whole summer. It's all due to what happened right before Augusta, slipping and hurting my back.
“Going into Augusta I’m playing the best golf of my career. Everything is working very well, and then unfortunately I didn’t get to play the Masters and then just struggled a little bit this whole summer,” Johnson said. “It’s all due to what happened right before Augusta, slipping and hurting my back.
“But I feel like the game is coming around. It’s starting to feel a lot better.”
Johnson, 33, is still dealing with the lingering effects of the back injury, though it hasn’t been painful for awhile.
“I can still feel it a little bit,” Johnson said. “No pain or anything like that, it’s still just a little bit tight. It’s not injured. I just need to keep working on stretching it.”
Johnson has played four consecutive weeks in three countries, beginning with the British Open and continuing through the Canadian Open and WGC-Bridgestone Championship. He is headed to his home in Florida for a week to spend time with his two young sons and fiancée Paulina Gretzky before the start of the FedExCup playoffs. Johnson entered the PGA third in the FedExCup points race.
“I’m definitely looking forward to having a week off next week,” Johnson said. “The next six weeks are big with the four playoff events and Presidents Cup. I enjoy playing Presidents Cup. I’m looking forward to it. I need to take a few days to relax and then it’s time to get back at it.”
The move of the PGA Championship back to May and The Players Championship back to March beginning in 2019 has fueled speculation that the PGA Tour is preparing for a shorter season and an actual offseason.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has stated he wants to stop competing with football for attention and television viewers on weekends in the fall and may work to end the season beforehand. So the current wraparound season could be adjusted.
“I would like to have an offseason,” Dustin Johnson said. “Every sport needs time off, whether it’s for rest or for training. You look at football, you don’t have that for six or seven months and I know I can’t wait for it to come back and I know I’m not the only person.”
Several players at the PGA Championship voiced their approval of an offseason, both for themselves and the sport.
“I’ve always thought that an offseason in golf would be good,” Rory McIlroy said. “Not just for the players to get a little bit of rest and work on their games and whatever, but just from a fan perspective. You know, create a little bit of hype before the season starts again. So I’d be a big advocate for an offseason, if we ever had one.”
Slamming the door
Three-time major champion Jordan Spieth said he has believed for some time that the PGA Championship would be most difficult major for him to win.
“The PGA Championship I think is going to be the toughest for me,” said Spieth, who won the British Open three weeks ago to come within a PGA win of a career Grand Slam. “If we look historically back on my career, I think I will play this tournament worse than the other three majors just in the way that it’s set up.
“I feel like my game truly suits the other three majors maybe more than a PGA Championship. But I believe we can play anywhere and can win anywhere. It’s just a matter of having everything in sync at the right time. I’ll have a lot of opportunities.”
Spieth tied for 28th this week at 3-over 287 with a closing 70 Sunday. He missed his first two PGA Championship cuts, but tied for 13th last year and his comment seems to dismiss his runner-up to Jason Day in 2015. Spieth’s 17-under total at Whistling Straits would have had Spieth at least in a playoff in all but four of the 99 PGA Championships.
Spieth said he may return to Charlotte more often for the Wells Fargo Championship, especially considering upcoming PGA Tour schedule changes. He has played in just one, in 2013, when he tied for 32nd with rounds of 69, 71, 75 and 73. Quail Hollow is also scheduled to host the Presidents Cup in 2021, and more major events could be coming.
“The only reason I haven’t played it in the past is it’s just a tough time in the schedule,” Spieth said. “I never play more than four tournaments in row. I love The Players. I play both my hometown events and I go to Jack’s place. It’s really just a scheduling thing for me. I will certainly consider coming back. There are so many big events here, and I think extra course knowledge certainly could have helped this week and can help going forward.”
The PGA Championship featured 28 hours of live television coverage available to 570 million households in over 200 countries and territories, according to the PGA of America.
The 2017 PGA Championship had a purse of 10.5 million, with $1.89 million going to winner Justin Thomas. The runner-up pay was set at $1.134 million and third-place pay was set at $714,000.
Players making the cut earned at least $19,000 and those missing the cut took home $3,000 each.