The run of birdies Dustin Johnson was anticipating all week came Sunday at East Lake Golf Club.
It came too late to get Johnson in contention for a title, but his final-round 6-under-par 64 moved him up from 17th to a tie for fifth at 4-under 276 in the season-ending Tour Championship.
A run of four consecutive birdies and seven birdies in 10 holes beginning on the eighth hole included a 65-foot putt on the 10th hole and chip-in from deep rough on the 11th.
“It finally felt like I got some rhythm and got some stuff going,” Johnson said. “… I just finally started rolling the putter good. I don’t feel I played any different today than I played the other days. I hit a lot of fairways and hit a lot of greens. I just finally rolled in a few putts.”
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Johnson entered the four-event PGA Tour playoffs and Tour Championship seventh in FedExCup points and that’s where he finished to earn a $700,000 bonus. The points finish is the third-highest in his eight-year career, behind finishes of fifth and fourth in 2010 and ’11, respectively.
The tie for fifth is Johnson’s third consecutive top-10 finish at the Tour Championship combined with a tie for 10th in 2012 and fifth-place finish in 2013. Johnson finished outside the top 20 in his first three appearances at East Lake, and did not play last year as he took a six-month break from the PGA Tour.
It’s a lot more fun when you’re making birdies instead of grinding for pars every hole, or hitting good shots and missing your putt.
Though Johnson’s 64 didn’t improve his standing in FedExCup points, it did increase his earnings in the Tour Championship purse by $134,200 at $302,500.
“Playing a good solid round and shooting a nice low number was definitely a good end to the season. It gives me a lot of confidence going forward,” Johnson said.
“It’s a lot more fun when you’re making birdies instead of grinding for pars every hole, or hitting good shots and missing your putt. It just gets frustrating, especially on a hard golf course when you don’t get that many close putts for birdie. When you’re missing them it really gets frustrating.”
Johnson finished five strokes behind Tour Championship and FedExCup champion Jordan Spieth, and the birdie spree temporarily moved him into a tie for third following his final birdie on the 17th.
Johnson bogeyed the third hole after missing the fairway, finding a greenside bunker and missing a 7-foot par putt, and was 3 over for the tournament through seven holes Sunday.
A big drive led to an 8-foot birdie putt on the eighth and Johnson chipped to within 2 feet for birdie on the par-5 ninth. His 65-foot bomb and chip-in followed on holes 10 and 11, he made a 16-foot birdie putt on 13, chipped to 6 feet for birdie on the par-5 15th, and parlayed a 325-yard drive into a 9-foot birdie putt on the 17th.
“I was just trying to go out and shoot the best score I could, and around here anything under par is pretty good,” Johnson said. “Fortunately I played the back nine really well, which is good because the past couple days I haven’t played the back nine very good, and I felt like I was always in position on the back nine the last two days and never got anything out of it. Today, finally, I hit some good shots and holed some putts.”
The Presidents Cup from Oct. 8-11 will complete an eventful 2014-15 season for Johnson.
He and fiancée Paulina Gretzky had their first child – son Tatum – in January, he missed the first several months of the season while on a six-month break from the PGA Tour to tackle “personal challenges,” won within a few weeks of his return in early February to record a victory for the eighth consecutive season, came within a 12-foot putt of capturing his first major title at the U.S. Open, and finished the year with 11 top-10 finishes of his 21 starts to earn more than $5.5 million on tour.
Johnson is projected to move up from ninth to eighth in the Official World Golf Rankings when they are recalculated for publication Monday.
“It was a good year and I’m looking for a better year next year,” Johnson said. “I had a baby and he’s doing awesome. It’s been great being a new father and to share that with Paulina and Tatum has been fantastic. It’s a lot of fun and it’s going to just keep getting more fun.”
The 2015-16 season begins Oct. 15 with the opening round of the Frys.com Open in California.
Johnson’s next three events will be in Asia.
He has a two-day photo shoot for TaylorMade on Monday and Tuesday and will fly to Korea from Los Angeles on Saturday.
He’ll take a week off after the Presidents Cup before playing in the European Tour’s $2 million UBS Hong Kong Open for the first time, then another week off before playing from Nov. 5-8 in the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, China, a tournament Johnson won in 2013 as part of the 2013-14 season.
He expects to return to Myrtle Beach for at least a couple days sometime late this year to play with the winners of a Golf Holiday-sponsored sweepstakes. “There’s not a set date but I’ll be there at some point, probably later in the year,” Johnson said.