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championship mix

Don't complain to Dustin Johnson about the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup, the controversial and, some say, convoluted year-long points system that has determined the 30 players in this week's Tour Championship in Atlanta.

Most fans, media and even players have puzzled over PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem's brainchild, now in its third year as a postseason replacement to the money list for naming professional golf's best of the best. Not Johnson, though; the 24-year-old Columbia native and second-year Tour player said it's never been a problem for him.

"They have your projected FedEx points on the computer every week," he said with a laugh. "You look there and go, 'OK, fine.'"

Heading into today's opening round at East Lake Golf Club, Johnson knows what he has to do to earn the FedEx Cup's $10 million grand prize: "Win and Tiger (Woods, the points leader) finishes no better than sixth," the former Coastal Carolina All-American said.

Do not ask him to explain that, though. "Unless you're a math whiz, you can't figure it out," he said. "I just go out and play."

That approach has worked well for him.

Back in February, Johnson won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and a $1.098 million prize, a major chunk of his $2,815,251 year. The win also shot him to fourth in the FedEx Cup points race; he has never slipped out of the top 20 since.

Which does not mean 2009 was without drama. An injured wrist forced him to withdraw from the Travelers Championship a week later. He played once the next six weeks, in the British Open, where he missed the cut.

He rebounded with a tie for 10th at the PGA and in three FedEx Cup playoff events has tied for 15th (The Barclays), tied for fourth (Deutsche Bank Championship) and tied for 30th (BMW Championship).

"I've been playing really solid lately," Johnson said. "I had a chance to win in Boston (courtesy of a closing 66) and had one pretty decent round (64) at Barclays.

"My game is real close to being really good."

Other than an embarrassing DUI arrest in March, Johnson has not had a lot of bad days in 2009. "It helps a lot getting a year under your belt," he said. "You learn which (courses) you like and don't like, when to take a break, how many times in a row to play.

"Last year (as a rookie), I got worn out in the middle of the year. This year I made sure I took time off, and I was a lot more consistent."

His lone late-season disappointment was not making the U.S. Presidents Cup team. "It just came down to me and Hunter (Mahan), and (U.S. captain Fred Couples) went with Hunter. Anytime you're considered for the team is good. I'll make it next time."

The upside is after this week, Johnson can contemplate an open fall. He will defend his 2008 title at the Turning Stone Resort Championship next week, and then "I definitely am going to see some (USC and Coastal) football games," he said.

Tuesday, Johnson played a rain-shortened nine holes on an East Lake course already saturated by Georgia's heavy rainfall, and said he liked what he saw.

"It's really wet, so it'll play long, but it's got SubAir (a system that draws moisture out of the greens), so they're firm," he said. "I think that plays into the longer guys' hands," and few are longer than Johnson, whose 308.2-yard driving average is third on the Tour.

"I think (the course) fits my game pretty good," he said. "It's narrow, but there's not a lot of rough and that's Bermuda rough; I grew up playing on Bermuda. Any time we're in the South, it's good for me."

Critics of the FedEx Cup say Finchem's year-end cash grab will never replace the four majors in the hearts of players, but Johnson is ambivalent. "I think it ranks with the majors, for sure," he said.

Would he choose to win the FedEx Cup over, say, the Masters?

"Gee, I don't know; that's a tough question," he said. "Augusta is always going to be (a goal) ... but you can't argue with $10 million."

He doesn't need a computer to figure that out, either.

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