Dustin Johnson discusses his second FedEx St. Jude Classic title and the 170-yard shot that he holed out to end the tournament.
Mark Giannotto, USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee
MEMPHIS — Dustin Johnson watched his final shot of the final FedEx St. Jude Classic sail through the air and didn’t immediately realize what he had done.
His eyes squinted into the sun as he held the follow through and he lost track of the ball. The crowd surrounding the 18th green barely had time to gasp when it one-hopped into the cup from around 170 yards.
As they cheered, Johnson began walking down the fairway with his nine-iron in hand and bumped fists with his caddie and brother, Austin.
He knew it was good, but he didn’t yet know it went in. That came “probably 10 seconds later,” he said, which explains why Johnson’s initial reaction was to simply shrug his shoulders.
Like the thousands crowded around the final hole at TPC Southwind, he could hardly believe what happened.
“What a cool way to end,” Johnson said.
Johnson ran away from the field Sunday en route to his second FedEx St. Jude Classic championship, finishing with a score of 19 under after carding a final-round 66. The victory not only earned the 33-year-old American a $1.18 million payday, it moved him back up to No. 1 in the world golf rankings heading into this week’s U.S. Open.
Johnson’s four-round total was the lowest score in the tournament since TPC Southwind’s redesign after the 2004 event. It was also 10 strokes better than when he won here in 2012.
“It means a lot,” Johnson said when asked about ascending to No. 1 again after his 64-week run atop the rankings ended last month. “It was a long way to get there and I held it for a long time, and obviously (Justin Thomas) took it from me for a little while. It was nice to finish like that and get it back.”
Johnson finished six shots ahead of runner-up Andrew Putnam (-13), who played in the final pairing with him Sunday.
Though the two entered the round tied at 15 under, there were precious few times when it felt as if Johnson would relinquish his grip on this tournament. Putnam double-bogeyed the first hole and never found a groove.
The golf fans at TPC Southwind never embraced the underdog, either.
With the tournament transitioning into the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational next year, they wanted a star to close out the 61st edition of this event. Shouts of “DJ!” rang out throughout the course and Johnson returned the favor, bumping fists with anyone who reached over the ropes.
Nonetheless, there were some perilous moments on the back nine.
Johnson’s tee shot on the par-4 12 hooked way left and over the cart path, prompting Austin Johnson to yell, “Fore!” Dustin Johnson groaned in frustration with just a two-shot lead over Putnam and waited to see if the ball had carried out of bounds.
For the first time Sunday, it appeared as if he was not preordained to win the tournament.
But Johnson scrambled, benefiting from a fortuitous angle toward the green on his approach shot before sinking a 16-foot putt for par.
“It was huge and I knew it. That was a big putt,” Johnson said. “That kind of gave me the boost I needed to finish out the round.”
On cue, Johnson crushed a 359-yard tee shot on No. 13, hit a 99-yard approach shot within three feet of the pin and birdied for the first time in 10 holes.
He ran into more trouble on the par-5 16th, hitting into the trees off the tee. But, Johnson would say later, he had “a little bit of a window” and threaded his second shot to within 70 feet of the hole. He got up-and-down for birdie, all but sealing his 18th career PGA Tour victory.
But this win will be remembered for the eagle that ended it, even though Johnson held a comfortable four-shot lead heading to the 18th hole.
The last time a player holed out from off the green to win on the PGA Tour was the 2017 Travelers Championship, when Jordan Spieth knocked in a bunker shot for a dramatic win.
Johnson said Sunday he had never done something like this before. But he had been on the other end of this sort of moment, when Kevin Kisner holed out to beat him by one shot in a junior tournament.
He didn’t intend to author a form of redemption Sunday and provide a capstone to the Memphis area’s PGA Tour event.
“It came out perfect,” Johnson said, “and it went in.”
The Commercial Appeal in Memphis is part of the USA TODAY Network.