John­son, Chap­pell tied at East Lake

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Doug Fer­gu­son

Dustin John­son had a rea­son­able lie in the rough and only a few pine tree branches block­ing his path to the 17th green. Nei­ther seemed like a prob­lem un­til he played the wrong shot, clipped the tree and wound up with a dou­ble bo­gey Satur­day in the Tour Cham­pi­onship.

It was an ex­am­ple of how one hole can change ev­ery­thing at East Lake.

And it’s why the fi­nal round of the PGA Tour sea­son sud­denly has more sce­nar­ios than John­son cares to con­sider.

John­son re­cov­ered with a birdie from the bunker on the par-5 18th for a 1-un­der 69, giv­ing him a share of the lead with Kevin Chap­pell (68) go­ing into the last round that will de­ter­mine who wins the Tour Cham­pi­onship and the FedEx Cup.

For the first time since 2009, there’s a chance it might not be the same player.

“There’s a lot of sce­nar­ios that could hap­pen,” John­son said. “But yeah, I’m still go­ing to go out and try to shoot as low a score as pos­si­ble.”

John­son only has to win or fin­ish sec­ond alone to claim the $10 mil­lion bonus as the FedEx Cup cham­pion.

Rory McIl­roy, who has gone 28 holes with­out a bo­gey at East Lake, had three birdies over his last six holes for a 66 and was two shots be­hind. If he were to win the Tour Cham­pi­onship and John­son fin­ished in a two-way tie for sec­ond or worse, McIl­roy would claim the FedEx Cup.

“It would just be great to try to win the Tour Cham­pi­onship, and if the chips fall my way, then so be it,” McIl­roy said.

The win­ner of the Tour Cham­pi­onship has won the FedEx Cup ev­ery year since 2009, when Phil Mick­el­son won the tour­na­ment and Tiger Woods won the FedEx Cup.

John­son led by as many as four shots when he ran off three straight birdies on the front nine, and he re­ally didn’t do much wrong to give up the size of that lead. He had a three-putt from 70 feet on No. 13, and missed the fair­way by a few feet on the next hole, enough that his ball was buried so deep that even John­son and his power couldn’t ad­vance more than about 135 yards.

It was the 17th hole that re­shaped the tour­na­ment.

John­son tried to played a fade from a flyer lie in the rough, and the ball came out high and hit a branch, leav­ing him in more rough about 60 yards short of the green. He put that in the bunker, blasted out to 6 feet and missed the putt to make dou­ble bo­gey.

Chap­pell rolled in a 10-foot birdie putt for a three-shot swing on the hole and sud­denly had the lead, only for John­son to catch him with the fi­nal birdie.

They were at 8-un­der 202.

Chap­pell, a run­ner-up three times this sea­son who has never won on the PGA Tour, has made only one bo­gey in 54 holes this week, a show of con­sis­tency, dis­ci­pline and a few good breaks when he does miss the fair­way.

His next chance at a break­through vic­tory is to face golf’s best player at the mo­ment (John­son), with McIl­roy and Ryan Moore (66) two shots be­hind.

“I’ve al­ways kind of been the un­der­dog, so it’s a role I’m com­fort­able in,” Chap­pell said.

Moore went out in 31 un­til he was slowed by a pair of bo­geys, though very much in the mix just two shots out of the lead. The mys­tery is whether any­thing he does on Sun­day — even if that means a vic­tory — is enough for Davis Love III to use his last cap­tain’s pick on Moore for the Ry­der Cup.

“I came here this week to win a golf tour­na­ment, and I’m 100 per­cent fo­cused on that,” Moore said, adding that the Ry­der Cup is “com­pletely out of my con­trol.”

And that’s how the last day is shap­ing up for ev­ery­one — post a score and see where it leads.

John­son, for a mo­ment, looked as though he might take all the drama out of the sea­son-en­der when he made a 15-foot par putt early in his round and then ran off three straight birdies on the front nine to go four shots clear.

The put­ter cooled off, how­ever, and Chap­pell stayed in range.

Chap­pell chipped in on No. 12 to match birdies and stay three shots be­hind, and then he quickly closed the gap when John­son made back-to-back bo­geys, only to re­spond with a 4-iron over the wa­ter to a penin­sula green on the par-3 15th to 15 feet for birdie.

The 17th hole changed ev­ery­thing.

“I thought about just try­ing to hit it in the front bunker, which I prob­a­bly should have done — prob­a­bly would have made 4 if I’d have done that,” John­son said. “But it is what it is. I came back and birdied the last hole, tied for the lead go­ing into to­mor­row. I like my po­si­tion.”

And he doesn’t need a de­gree in math to fig­ure out the eas­i­est sce­nario — just win.

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