Dustin Johnson overpowers field in win
EDISON, N.J. -- As Hurricane Irene continued to make her way up the East Coast early Saturday, 72 golfers started the final round of the Barclays at the Plainfield C.C. A big storm was coming, but the matter of an $8 million purse and FedEx Cup playoff points had to be settled first.
On Friday night, some players had already seen their seasons end. After Saturday, others would pack up their clubs until the Fall Series, as only the top 100 off the FedEx Cup points list would advance to next week.
Shortened to 54 holes, Dustin Johnson had promised a day earlier that Saturday's finale would be a shootout. With the classic Donald Ross design playing soft and short, the best players in the world could order up birdies like hotcakes. And they did as Johnson defeated Matt Kuchar by two shots.
Starting the day eight shots off Kuchar's 14-under-par lead, Brandt Snedeker shot a 10-under 61 to finish in a tie for third with Vijay Singh at 16 under. The 30-year-old Snedeker had 11 birdies, including five in a row to start the front nine.
"I knew the [leaders] were going to make birdies, so I knew I had to go low," said Snedeker, who moved from 18th to sixth in the standings with his strong finish. "If I got to 18 under par, which would have been 59, I thought then on the outside, if some rain and some wind came in that didn't blow [out], that I might have an outside chance at it."
As it turned out a 59 would have still come up short by one shot. Teeing off in the last group at 8:50 a.m. ET with Kuchar and Singh, Johnson birdied his first two holes of the day to take the lead from Kuchar.
After a bogey at the third hole, Johnson holed his second shot for an eagle at No. 4 from a greenside bunker on the drivable par-4 360-yard hole. For the second day in a row, he shot 29 on the front nine.
At the turn, Johnson was 19 under with a 1-shot lead over Kuchar, who kept up with Johnson after a 31 on the outward nine. Kuchar would tie Johnson for the lead with a birdie at the short par-3 11th hole, but bogeys at 12 and 13 essentially killed his chances of defending his title.
Johnson didn't make a birdie on the back nine, but his 19 under par overall total was good enough for his fifth PGA Tour title -- and his second 54-hole win. In 2009, he took the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am after rain caused that event to be shortened. The victory vaults him to first in the playoff standings from 19th coming into the week.
"I felt like I played some really good golf this year," Johnson said. "Just have not been able to quite get it done. And it wasn't that my golf game was bad. Just the putts I needed to make, I just had not been able to make them and this week I felt like I didn't do anything crazy with the putter. I just made the ones I was supposed to."
Kuchar had played steady all week and played well enough most of the day to keep pace with Johnson.
"I'm bummed," said Kuchar, who earned $864,000 for finishing second, moving to second in the FedEx Cup playoff race. "Those two bogeys were the equivalent of three-putts. It's frustrating.
"The way Dustin was playing, I felt like if I didn't make birdie I was going to get way behind. Guys like Dustin can make golf look really easy. If you could have one attribute from a golfer, you would want to drive it like him."
There was never any doubt that Johnson was a big-time player. His struggles with course management have been well documented, but his physical gifts have allowed him to overcome some of his mental game challenges.
With the hiring of veteran caddie Joe LaCava to the bag in May, Johnson's prospects look great for him to join golf's elite. He now has the most wins of any player currently in his 20s.
After the tournament, he was asked what he thought about the chatter that Keegan Bradley was the best young American player after his PGA Championship victory.
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Johnson answered in his typical nonchalant but polite way.
"I play golf. I don't really read the press too much," he said. "But it doesn't really matter. I think I'm a pretty good, young American player."
Heading into the Deutsche Bank Championship, which starts Friday at the TPC Boston, Johnson will headline a 100-man playoff field that will shrink to 70 by next Monday. Eight players that were not inside the top 100 at the beginning of the week played their way into the field -- a list that includes Padraig Harrington, Ernie Els, Ian Poulter, Camilo Villegas and unheralded rookie William McGirt, who started the tournament in the last spot at 125th.
The 32-year-old McGirt finished in a tie for 24th after a final-round 70 to jump to 96th in the playoff standings. At the start of the week, the PGA Tour told him that he needed to finish at least 36th to move on to Boston. During the round his wife updated him on his position. But he wasn't scoreboard watching.
"I didn't even notice there wasn't a scoreboard on the golf course until Charley pointed it out on 14 walking to the green," said McGirt, a 2001 Wofford College grad. "I had no idea. I had not even looked for one.
"I didn't want to know. I knew going into the day it was just like Sunday; if I played well, it would take care of itself. I didn't play as well as I wanted, but I guess I like living on the edge."
In an effort to limit possible flying debris in case Irene moved in earlier than expected, the PGA Tour removed all the leaderboards from the course as a safety precaution.
There were also eight unfortunate golfers who played themselves out of the top 100 with their performances this week, including Michael Bradley, who won the Puerto Rico Open in March.
In a week riddled with disappointments for Barclays and Plainfield Country Club with unforeseen bad weather, the tournament got some good news Saturday when Barclays announced the event would be returning to the venue in 2015. Next year, the Barclays will be played at Bethpage Black, host of the 2002 and 2009 U.S. Open, as it rotates among courses in and around the New York City metropolitan area.
Even if the course had played dry and fast, this beautiful old layout -- dubbed the Green Monster -- probably would have still yielded a very low winning score and a ton of birdies. Perhaps the golf gods showed mercy on it by limiting play to 54 holes.
The Barclays Leaderboard
1. Johnson (-19)
2. Kuchar (-17)
T-3. Singh (-16)
T-3. Snedeker (-16)
5. Byrd (-15)
• Complete scores
But early Saturday afternoon the players were in a hurry to leave this place to escape the storm, which promised to slam central New Jersey by mid-afternoon.
Johnson was trying to catch a flight to head home to South Carolina. Jonathan Byrd was driving to Harrisburg, Pa., to fly to Georgia. Jason Day and his wife were leaving their RV behind to fly to their home in Ohio. Aaron Baddeley and his wife were headed to Chicago, one of their favorite cities. Bo Van Pelt was going to crash at his teacher's house in New Jersey until he could fly home to Tulsa, Okla., on Monday.
Yet they will all come back together in Boston by Friday for the Deutsche Bank Championship.
The forecast is for sunny skies through Saturday. It should be a fun week as Charley Hoffman tries to defend his title.
Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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