Norton: Dustin Johnson is back to No. 1 in the world and wants to stay there as long as he can.
The manner in which he obliterated one of the strongest fields of the year at The Northern Trust is to wonder how he ever left in the first place. At his best, no one makes golf look easier.
“He can absolutely dismantle a golf course,” said Kevin Kisner, who used to ride to junior golf tournaments with Johnson when they were kids in South Carolina. “I’ve been watching it for 25 years. I’m pretty accustomed to it. When he’s on, I just step to the side and try to add on to my bank account.”
The numbers that defined Johnson’s dominance go well beyond the $1.71 million he earned for his 22nd career victory on the PGA Tour, his second this summer since golf returned from the pandemic or his fifth title in the FedEx Cup playoffs, tying him with Rory McIlroy for most in the postseason.
He started with a five-shot lead Sunday and matched the low score of the final round with an eight-under 63. Harris English, playing with Johnson in the last group, shot 32 on the front nine and lost ground.
“Kind of had my own tournament that I was playing,” English said.
His 11-shot victory was the widest margin on the PGA Tour since Phil Mickelson won by 13 at the TPC Sugarloaf outside Atlanta in 2006, a week before the Masters.
When he tapped in for birdie on the final hole at TPC Boston, he was at 30-under 254, both personal bests.
Johnson became only the third player to finish at 30-under par or better on the PGA Tour. He was one shot from the record Ernie Els set in 2003 at Kapalua. Jordan Spieth was 30 under at Kapalua in 2016. He also was one shot from the 72-hole record Justin Thomas set — 253 — when he won the Sony Open in 2017.
Johnson wasn’t aware of either record. “What is it?” he said when it was over, and then added, “That’s all right. Next time.”
What led to those numbers was missing only three greens over his last 54 holes — none on Sunday — while posting rounds of 60-64-63 the final three rounds, the lowest closing 54-hole total in tour history.
The 60 in the second round was noteworthy for Johnson being 11-under through 11 holes. It might have been the first time golf was buzzing about the prospect of a 57. Not many could have guessed he would finish with seven pars.
But then, Johnson is a mystery even at his best.
He shot 61 on his way to winning the Travelers Championship, but when he returned after a two-week break, he had a pair of 80s to miss the cut at Memorial, and a 78 before he withdrew from the 3M Open in Minnesota.
Since then, he has an average score of 66.25 in 12 rounds.
He came off the disappointment of another major that was in his grasp — the PGA Championship was his fifth runner-up finish in the majors, including the career Grand Slam of silver medals — by steamrollering the top 125 players outside Boston.
Claude Harmon III, his swing coach, recalls Johnson showing up for The Northern Trust, going to the range and then saying, “Bro, what am I supposed to be working on again? I was hitting it good in San Francisco.”
And he was. Johnson had a one-shot lead going into the final round at Harding Park and shot 68, only to lose to a 65 by Collin Morikawa. There was disappointment in not adding to his lone major (2016 US Open at Oakmont) but not in the way he played that week.
“I didn’t feel like I really did anything wrong at he PGA,” Johnson said. “Generally, you shoot 68 on Sunday in a major with the lead on a tough golf course, you’re going to win most of the time. So obviously, Collin jut played very, very well. Went home and took a few days off, and then got back to work. The game started feeling really good.”
He moved to No. 1 in the FedEx Cup, the fifth time in the postseason he has been at the top. The trick is being No. 1 when it ends at East Lake in two weeks, and that has proven difficult.
His closest call was in 2016 when he was the No. 1 seed at the Tour Championship, He was tied for the lead going into the final round, shot 73 and still would have won the FedEx Cup if either Kevin Chappell or Ryan Moore had won a three-man playoff. McIlroy wound up the winner of the tournament and the FedEx Cup.
As good as Johnson looked at The Northern Trust, no matter what happens this week at the BMW Championship, it still comes down to four days at East Lake. That much he knows.
“It’s something I haven’t won,” Johnson said. “It’s something I’ve been close to winning a few times, and it’s just something that I would really like to have on my resume when I’m done playing golf. It’s a big title. It means a lot to all the guys out here. It definitely means a lot to me.”