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Dustin Johnson's patience could be key

EDISON, N.J. -- At Plainfield Country Club's 588-yard, par-5 12th hole, Dustin Johnson's approach shot from the fairway found the hazard that runs around the green. On his third shot, he stared at a horrible lie with the ball well below his feet.

He considered trying to hit the ball out left, away from the pin. Taking a drop and using his putter from off the green would likely allow him to escape with a par during the second round at the Barclays. But what if he couldn't advance the ball out of the rough?

"Why don't you see where you would be if you took a drop from the hazard," said his caddie, Joe LaCava, who left Fred Couples in May after more than 20 years to work with the 27-year-old four-time winner on the PGA Tour.

Johnson and LaCava asked the fans where the ball had crossed into the hazard. They were told a few different spots before Dennis Paulson, a former PGA Tour player now doing play-by-play for Sirius XM radio, interjected to give an exact placement.

LaCava gave his boss an assurance that the spot was good.

"[Paulson] played," LaCava said. "He knows."

Johnson took his drop and walked away with a par. Although he was upset that he had bombed a drive but couldn't hit the green in two with a 3-iron in his hands, Johnson still managed an 8-under 63 -- including a 29 on the front nine -- on Friday. He is 11 under on the outward nine this week and 13 under overall for the tournament.

"Every hole out there is a birdie hole," said Johnson, who trails 36-hole leader Matt Kuchar by a shot. "A 63 is a 63, but I did leave a few chances out there that I let slip away on the back nine."

Kuchar followed up his 63 on Thursday with a 65 on Friday to lead the first tournament of the FedEx Cup playoffs.

Vijay Singh will join Kuchar and Johnson in the final group tomorrow after he fired a 7-under 64 on Friday. The 48-year-old Fijian appears to be returning to the form that helped him to 34 PGA Tour wins.

Last week at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, he tied for fourth. Singh has not won a PGA Tour event since 2008, when he won the FedEx Cup playoffs and both the Barclays and the Deutsche Bank Championship.

For the last two years, he has battled back and knee problems. Earlier this month he underwent six days of treatment in Germany that included therapy and blood work. It was the same treatment that Fred Couples got for his back problems.

"I haven't been in this situation for a long time," he said. "I'm very excited. A 59 is out there if you look at how easy it's playing."

Singh was the only player to make a significant move out of the afternoon wave. Harrison Frazar, the first-round leader, fell off the pace after shooting a 2-under 69.

Since Johnson's monumental meltdown at the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, where he shot a final-round 82, the former Coastal Carolina star has been dogged by critics for his course management.

At the PGA Championship that August, he lost a chance to get into a playoff with Bubba Watson and Martin Kaymer when he grounded his club in a fairway bunker at Whistling Straits. Earlier this year, he nearly missed his tee time at the Northern Trust Open in February. The culmination of those incidents prompted him to fire his caddie Bobby Brown in April.

And it appeared those mental lapses didn't go away when, in July at the British Open, Johnson hit a 3-iron out of bounds on Sunday on the 14th hole. At the time, he still had a chance to catch eventual champion Darren Clarke.

His smart decision at the 12th hole Friday, though, could serve him well as the PGA Tour announced the Barclays would be shortened to 54 holes, a first for a FedEx Cup playoff event. The players will tee off in threesomes on Saturday morning beginning at 7 a.m. ET with the hopes of finishing the tournament before the deluge expected from Hurricane Irene starts later in the day.

"We are looking upwards to maybe 10 to 12 inches of rain between Saturday night and Sunday evening," said Slugger White, PGA Tour tournament director. "If we don't get 18 in tomorrow, we will resort back to 36 holes, and the FedEx points would be spread there and sent to Boston."

At 10 under and 4 shots behind the leader after a second-round 66, Aaron Baddeley, said he had an inkling it would become a 54-hole event.

"I went after everything because I wanted to shoot as low as I could to get into position for tomorrow," he said.

Everyone now knows the window for making a move has been tightened.

"Tomorrow is going to be a shootout," said Johnson, who won the 2009 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am that was shortened to 54 holes by rain.

With two par-5s on the back nine and the drivable 18th hole, Johnson should have an advantage over his nearest competitors coming down the stretch. The soft conditions have made the course utterly defenseless.

"To me, it seems like any time you have soft conditions, doesn't matter how long, doesn't matter how deep the rough is," said Kuchar. "Some guys are going to figure out a way to make a bunch of birdies."

Bo Van Pelt, who is at 7 under, believes that anybody from the large group at 10 under has a chance of winning the tournament. But he favors Johnson because of his length.

"Dustin has six eagle chances on this golf course," said the 36-year-old former Oklahoma State star. "That's a huge advantage over most of the field."

By late Friday the cut came at 4 under -- and the players will lace up for a Saturday sprint in the morning. It could be one of the most compelling finishes in FedEx Cup history.

"If it is windy and we are playing on the edge of a front tomorrow, that could make it exciting and actually make moving up even better " said Justin Rose, who is 4 shots back of the lead after shooting a 65 on Friday. "Whereas if it was calm like it was today, you can pretty much guarantee one of the top five guys is going to shoot low."

After the round, I asked Johnson how he would feel about having two wins at weather-shortened events on his résumé. He was politely dismissive of the presumption that it was less prestigious than winning a 72-hole event.

"I don't care if it's 18 holes," he said. "It doesn't matter to me."

It could be a perfect storm for one lucky player.

Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at evans.espn@gmail.com