Dustin Johnson: The Travelers Championship, the third PGA Tour tournament following a 90-day layoff due to the coronavirus pandemic, started last week with a flurry of positive players and caddies checking for the virus. The case lurched forward warmly.
But by the final round Sunday afternoon, it seemed almost reassuringly familiar with uncertainty, drama and the import that accompanied it as another PGA Tour event closed with gripping, tight pressure.
There was Dustin Johnson, ranked sixth on the tour, standing in a pond with his pants rolled up desperately trying to save by a few minutes after he hooked a tee shot out of bounds and close enough to a railway to be a stowaway. Brendon Todd, who began the day with a two-stroke lead, had to suffer the fearsome desperation of a shanked chip shot that ruined his round. When he finished the final round with seven straight birdies, Kevin Streelman made a late charge as if conjuring the mojo of his 2014 Travelers win.
Oh, yes, and Bryson DeChambeau, who has earned 40 pounds from an intense workout regime designed to overpower tour layouts, again smashed towering drives that made some holes look like those from a pitch-and-putt course. Yet hitting and putting is still, as it turns out, a problem for most golfers, including DeChambeau.
Ultimately, Johnson had the perfect mix of power off the tee and deftness on the greens at the T.P.C. River Highlands golf course about 12 miles south of Hartford, Conn. to win the championship by one stroke over Streelman. It was his 21st tour victory and his first since winning the World Golf Championship event in Mexico in February 2019 for Johnson, who shot a final round 67 to finish 19 under par for the tournament. Earning the Travelers title however means that Johnson has won a tour event in each of the last 13 seasons. In consecutive PGA Tour seasons only Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods had longer records for victory.
“It’s obviously a great streak and anytime you’re mentioned with those names, it’s obviously a big accomplishment,” Johnson said Sunday. “But it was a long time between wins and hopefully I won’t have to wait that long again for the next one.”
Johnson shot a low 61 career during the third round of Saturday, and was forced to wait for a weather delay of around an hour on Sunday as thunderstorms passed through central Connecticut. Johnson led the tournament at the time, with three holes left to play.
“The rain delay didn’t help because I had time to think about things,” he said. “I had been on a nice roll before that.”
It would be more accurate to say that when he chased down Todd, Johnson settled down after an adventurous stretch of golf but was suddenly staggered by wayward tee shots. In all, Johnson’s final 12 holes comprised three bogeys and four birdies.
The topsy-turvy stretch began with a bogey at the seventh hole but Johnson rallied by sinking a 27-foot birdie putt on the eighth hole that broke sharply from right to left. Then, he also birded the next two holes. Johnson appeared to be in cruise control by the 13th hole but then knocked his drive out of boundaries to the left and failed to make a bogey on what should have been a comfortable par 5 for Dustin Johnson, a long-driven player. Yet he would rallied to the next hole with a birdie.
A short, drive-able par 4 on the 15th hole, Johnson’s tee shot went to the left for a marsh. Although the ball landed just a few feet from the water at high speed, it fortunately stayed on the grass bench for Johnson.
“I hit a 3-hybrid very poorly,” Johnson said of the shot. “I don’t know what was going on with my tee balls today. And I was a little lucky there, but I still had to get up and down for par.”
Johnson’s only opportunity to advance the golf ball into the green from about 25 yards away was to wade into the pond which he did after removing his shoes and socks and hiking his trousers just below knee level. His chopping chip from the bank traveled about a third of the way to the green but Johnson pitched his third shot within four feet of the hole, after being reunited with his shoes and socks. He made the putt for par.
A bogey cut his lead over Streelman to one stroke on the 16th after the weather delay, but Streelman, who shot 67 Sunday, was unable to replicate his magic of 2014 on the greens. He ended up with 5 consecutive pars. It was Streelman’s second runner-up finish of the year, having placed second in February at AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
“It’s a little disappointing, making a last birdie would have been nice,” Streelman said. “But I have to take a lot of positives. I just played beautifully.”
Todd, who a few years earlier conquered the dreaded swing yips of golf, kept a two-stroke lead over Johnson when his drive to the par 4, 12th hole fell slightly to the right of the green. Todd was left within eight feet of the green, with an awkward uphill chip shot.
It was a delicate shot but Todd rocked the ball off his wedge and it sailed sharply to the right over the green. Now that they needed a flop shot to climb to the green, Todd’s attempt was brief and rolled back down the hill. A putt also did not hit the green, and after a triple-bogey seven, two putts later, Todd was out of contention. For Todd, it was the first time since the fourth hole of Thursday’s first round that he had not made a par or better.
The PGA Tour resumes at the Detroit Rocket Mortgage Classic beginning July 2nd, next week.
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