The Commercial Appeal
Johnson has confidence, momentum heading into U.S. Open
It was a “fairly straightforward chip,” as far as Dustin Johnson was concerned: Straight up the hill, from the rough to the pin, approximately 22 feet away.
“And, you know,” he deadpanned, “fortunately it went in.”
What Johnson neglected to mention were the circumstances of that chip, an exclamation point on the final hole of his final round at the Fed-Ex St. Jude Classic on Sunday. The birdie gave him a 7-under 63 for the day and a courserecord-tying 29 on the back nine. And though his 9-under 271 was only good enough for a fifth-place finish at TPC Southwind, it does give him confidence heading into the U.S. Open at Oakmont this week.
“On the back nine, I had great looks on every hole,” Johnson said. “I got a little sloppy with my set-up the first couple days. Caused me to miss-hit some shots. (But) I’m real comfortable, real confident going into (the Open).”
Johnson began the day at 2-under, eight shots off the leader — and eventual champion — Daniel Berger. Then he birdied No. 7 and found his groove. He went on to record five more birdies in the final 10 holes — and a 16-foot putt for eagle on No. 16.
“I felt like today, all my putts I hit — even the ones I missed — looked like they were going in,” he said.
The 31-year-old set out to play more aggressively on the back nine, and was able to do so given the conditions on the course following a rainstorm and subsequent three-hour delay.
“The course, it’s played fairly soft all week,” Johnson said. “You can attack the flags, but with the soft conditions and the wind not blowing, definitely made it (easier) to be a little more aggressive, I mean especially in my position. … I had to make something happen if I wanted any kind of chance.”
With a 29 on the back nine Sunday, Johnson joined an exclusive group in the history of TPC Southwind. Only six others have achieved that feat since the tournament moved here in 1989: Gene Sauers (1995), Gil Morgan (1996), Clarence Rose (1999), Boo Weekley (2002), Tom Pernice, Jr. (2004) and Lee Westwood (2010).
Johnson said he feels like he has played well all year, even when his performance has not translated to low scores. But he also views Sunday’s performance as a welcome dose of momentum.
“Right now, I have a lot of confidence. I feel like I’ve been playing really well,” Johnson said. “The first three rounds … I don’t know what it was. I just gave away so many shots the first three rounds and today, even got off to like a slow start there. But turned it around, played 7 through 18 really well.”
ORLANDO TRAGEDY HAS RIPPLES AT FESJC
A lone gunman killed 50 people and critically wounded dozens more at a nightclub in Orlando early Sunday morning. And for many players in the final round of the FESJC, the event hit close to home.
“It’s sad. It’s unbelievably sad that somebody would do that,” said Brooks Koepka, whose girlfriend lives in Orlando. “It’s scary, it really is. I feel for the families and the people involved.”
Brian Gay, who finished in sixth place at 7-under, said he has lived in the Orlando area for 16 years and plans to remain there for many more. He said he was both saddened and shocked.
“It’s a great, great city and you don’t really see that much around Orlando,” he said. “It’s Disney World, everybody is happy and on vacation. Usually not that much action, not any bad stuff going on.
“Our thoughts go out to all the families and the city of Orlando.”
FOUR QUALIFY FOR BRITISH OPEN
With their top-12 finishes at the FESJC, Steve Stricker, Russell Henley, Seung-Yul Noh and Gay all secured spots in the 145th Open Championship, more commonly known as the British Open.
Memphis was added as a stop on the event’s qualifying series this year because of changes in the golf calendar caused by the sport’s return to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
“I love going over there. It’s a lot of fun to play a little bit different type of golf than what we’re used to, just be challenged,” said Henley, who will be making his fourth appearance at the British Open. “I love the opportunity and I’m excited and hopefully I can go there and play well again.”