VOL. 133 | NO. 117 | Tuesday, June 12, 2018
Johnson Wins Final FESJC, Takes Over No. 1 World Ranking
By Don Wade
Dustin Johnson had a sizable lead. Only a couple of holes remained in the final round of the FedEx St. Jude Classic at TPC Southwind Sunday, June 10, and a victory would push Johnson from No. 2 in the world rankings to No. 1.
So FESJC tournament director Darrell Smith, the man in charge of making sure the seersucker jacket gets to the winner, was feeling pretty good about things.
“It’s a perfect end to the last FedEx St. Jude Classic,” Smith said, a reference to the tournament being elevated to a World Golf Championships event in 2019. “It kind of feels like we’re going out on top.”
Dustin Johnson, winner of the FedEx St. Jude Classic, accepts the tournament trophy on the 18th green at TPC Southwind. Johnson eagled the last hole and won the tournament by 6 strokes over Andrew Putnam. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)
And then the finish to the 61st edition of this tournament, which started back in 1958 at Colonial Country Club, and has had winners named Nicklaus, Player and Trevino, somehow got even better.
Johnson’s second shot on 18 covered 169 yards, bounced once on the green and landed in the hole for an eagle that left him 19-under par for the tournament and had the gallery roaring. Johnson, who also won here in 2012, came in six strokes ahead of second-place finisher Andrew Putnam by shooting 67-63-65-66 for a total of 261.
“Cool way to end,” Johnson said.
Johnson didn’t actually see his 9-iron shot on 18 roll in the hole because of the sun. But he heard the crowd cheer and “I knew it was on a good line.”
It was a first for Johnson, finishing off a tournament victory with an eagle on 18. But he had seen it happen before.
“I had someone beat me doing that … back in junior golf,” Johnson said. “It was actually Kevin Kisner (No. 30 in world now). He skulled it, too; it hit the flag and went in and beat me by a shot.”
Johnson is among those headed to next weekend’s U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, New York, a tournament he won in 2016. No one has ever won the PGA Tour event the week preceding the U.S. Open and then won the U.S. Open.
“Why not be the first one to do it?” Johnson said. “Winning this week I think is a bigger confidence booster than being No. 1 in the world.”
Putnam, ranked No. 273 in the world, was paired with Johnson for the final round and was +2 for the day. He started with a double-bogey.
“Didn’t need to give two strokes away on the first hole,” he said. “The putts weren’t dropping. Just a little off with my speed. Could never really put pressure on him.”
The last opportunity for the things to get interesting came on 16 when Johnson sprayed his tee shot off the fairway into the trees. But he found a way out of trouble and actually furthered his lead by a stroke.
“I had a little bit of a window,” Johnson said. “And there was a tree probably another 60 yards up that I needed to cut around. Obviously, I hit a very quality golf shot to leave it right where I did and made a great up-down there for birdie.”
Johnson’s 18th career PGA victory in his 232nd career start also made him the seventh player with two or more wins at the FESJC. He joined Daniel Berger (2016, 2017), Justin Leonard (2005, 2008), David Toms (2003, 2004), Nick Price (1993, 1998), Lee Trevino (1971, 1972 and 1980) and Dave Hill (1967, 1969, 1970 and 1973).
Berger not only didn’t become the first man to win the FESJC three years in a row, he missed the cut by one stroke. Among other notables: Phil Mickelson, who owns five majors, came in tied for 12th at 6-under. Ole Miss golfer Braden Thornberry tied for 26th at 4-under, and Brooks Koepka, who came into the event No. 9 in the world, tied for 30th at 3-under. Memphian Casey Wittenberg finished 69th at 8-over.
While Johnson ran away from the field, J.B. Holmes finished four strokes behind Putnam for third place. It was Holmes’ second top-5 finish of the season. Stewart Cink and Richy Werenski were another stroke back, tied for fourth.
For Cink, who has played the FESJC 10 times, this was his third top-10 finish here. He even had a hole-in-one on the eighth hole Saturday in the third round. But if he’s sitting at No. 181 in the world rankings next year, like he was coming into this year’s FESJC, he won’t be eligible for the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.
“It just gives me extra incentive to try to get myself up there in the world rankings so I can come back to this thing,” Cink said. “It’s one of my favorite tournaments. Memphis almost feels like a second home. And the fact Cozy Corner’s in Downtown Memphis, that doesn’t hurt anything either.”