Dustin Johnson has done it again.
The Irmo native became the first player on the PGA Tour this season to win four events, prevailing in a duel with Jordan Spieth to capture the Northern Trust Open Sunday, the first event of the FedEx Cup Playoffs. He played a bogey-free final round and won in a playoff.
Johnson needed to drain a clutch par putt on No. 18 to force a playoff, where the Coastal Carolina alum showed why he’s one of the biggest hitters on tour. He hit a massive drive, the longest tee shot of the week in the event, on the first hole of the sudden-death playoff.
His 341-yard drive far outdistanced a solid tee shot from Spieth, setting up Johnson’s lob wedge to 4 feet, birdie and win at the event at Glen Oaks Club.
“Jordan’s a top competitor, he played really well all day. I felt I played really good today,” Johnson said in television interview following the win. “I’m expecting to play very well.”
Johnson and Spieth finished regulation at 13-under 267. Johnson shot four consecutive rounds in the 60s, finishing with a 66 on Sunday after opening the event 65-69-67.
Johnson rallied from a five-shot deficit on the front nine. And on the final hole in regulation, he curled in an 18-foot birdie putt that swirled around the cup and fell in the back to match Spieth’s two-putt par from 75 feet.
Spieth, who closed with a 69, lost for the first time in six tries when leading by at least two shots. There wasn’t much he could do except take back that tee shot into the water on the par-3 sixth hole after building a five-shot lead. Johnson played bogey-free in the final round, and played his final 29 holes at par or better.
“I didn’t lose the tournament,” Spieth said. “He won it.”
The win was the 16th of Johnson’s career, but the first in five months for the golfer who looked unstoppable at the beginning of the season.
Johnson has dominated in 2017, winning three events in a row heading into the Masters in April. A freak accident knocked him out of the year’s first major before play started. Having returned from the gym, Johnson was still in his socks when he went downstairs in his rented home to move his car.
He slipped near the bottom and crashed so hard on his lower back that it left a deep bruise, and the pain didn’t entirely subside until last week. Johnson tried to warm up the next day for the opening round at Augusta National and decided minutes before his tee time that he couldn’t go.
“I feel like the game’s finally back in form like it was leading into the Masters. I feel like I’m swinging everything really well and got a lot of control over the golf ball. I’m feeling really good,” Johnson said as he focuses on winning the FedEx Cup Playoffs. “Obviously getting a win here today gives me a lot of confidence going into next week and the rest of the playoffs.”
Johnson is the No. 1 player in the World Golf Rankings, and with Sunday’s victory, he returned to the top of the standings in the FedEx Cup Playoffs. He currently maintains a 595-point edge over Spieth, with Justin Thomas, Hideki Matsuyama and Jon Rahm rounding out the top five.
Prior to the Masters, Johnson won the Dell Technologies Match Play, the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club and the WGC Mexico Championship.
Johnson’s winning streak was the longest since Rory McIlroy also won three in a row in the summer of 2014. He was trying to match Tiger Woods, who won five in a row from September 2007 through March 2008.
Johnson’s ascent in the rankings has been steady, highlighted by winning the 2016 U.S. Open, the first major tournament victory of his career. In a decade-long PGA Tour career, Johnson has won at least one tournament every year since his rookie season.
Besides the U.S. Open, in 2016 Johnson won the WGC-Bridgestone (a World Golf Championship event) and the BMW Championship, part of the Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs. In total, he cashed checks for more than $9 million, best in professional golf, while leading the Tour in scoring average and top-10 finishes.
The opening FedEx Cup playoff event featured two of the biggest names in golf who put on an amazing show on Long Island.
“I thought that was a fun show,” Spieth said. “I was hoping it wasn’t going to be that much fun.”
On the closing hole, Johnson showed the kind of golf I.Q. that belies his simple outlook on life. After he sliced his drive up the hill and into a nasty lie in the rough, he chose to lay up instead of trying to hammer a shot to an elevated green.
But he made it pay off with a par, that got him into the playoff after Spieth lagged a 75-foot putt perfectly to get his par.
The Northern Trust never looked as though it would contain so much drama.
Spieth began with a three-shot lead. He two-putted from long range for birdie on the par-5 third hole when Johnson, from closer range but putting from off the green, took three to get down for a par. And then the fifth hole felt like a dagger – Spieth poured in a 30-foot birdie putt, and Johnson missed his birdie from 8 feet.
That gave Spieth a five-shot lead – no one else was closer than seven – and it seemed even larger because Johnson wasn’t making any putts.
Five holes later, they were tied.
Spieth’s tee shot on the next hole banged off the rock wall and into the water on the par-3 sixth, and he made double bogey. On the ninth hole, Spieth took three putts from just off the left side the green, and Johnson made a 7-foot birdie putt for another two-shot swing.
Johnson began the back nine with an 8-foot birdie, and they were tied.
The closest Johnson came to taking the lead was a 15-foot eagle attempt that narrowly missed. Spieth regained the lead with an 8-foot birdie on the 14th, and Johnson tied him again from 18 feet on the next hole.
It was great theater, even before a crowd not nearly as large as other courses used in the rotation, and it lasted all the way until the end.
No one else really had a chance.
Rahm ran off three consecutive birdies early on the back and briefly was one shot behind, though he had stronger holes ahead of him and fell back. Jhonattan Vegas was within two shots after playing the scoring holes.
Otherwise, it was a matter of who finished among the top 100 in the FedEx Cup to move on to the TPC Boston next week for the next playoff event.
Bubba Watson shot a 70 and tied for 10th, to become one of eight players to qualify for the second playoff event all 11 years of the FedEx Cup. David Lingmerth, who started at No. 103, overcame a 40 on the front nine for a 73 to tie for 29th and move into the top 100.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.