So close to major glory, DJ only finds more heartbreak

By Will GrayJune 22, 2015, 4:42 am

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – As Jordan Spieth sat ready to hoist the U.S. Open trophy on the 18th green at Chambers Bay, and Louis Oosthuizen eagerly received his second-place medal, fellow runner-up Dustin Johnson was conspicuously absent.

Which is a shame, since he might have gotten some extra hardware for losing the tournament twice on the same afternoon.

Already one of the most decorated players on the PGA Tour, Johnson took an opportunity to erase years of heartbreak and instead turned it into one of the biggest 72nd-hole gut punches in major championship history.

Hey, Doug Sanders? Scott Hoch? It’s DJ on Line 1. Time to increase the membership list of golf’s most inconsolable fraternity.

Johnson knows all about losing majors in agonizing fashion, but this one was supposed to be different. Here he stood, on the 72nd hole with the tournament hanging on his clubface, poised and confident and ready to grab his first major trophy with both hands. The pain of years past, the near-misses that kept him from earning a spot among the game’s upper echelon, were all about to be washed away.

After two mighty lashes on the home hole, the target was within range. Just like at Whistling Straits, except this time there was nary a bunker to get in his way.

But minutes later, the scene still reverted back to 2010, as a stunned Johnson took off his cap, brushed aside his hair and wondered what in the world had just happened.

Another opportunity missed. Another chance wasted.

Full-field scores: 115th U.S. Open

For much of the day, the stage appeared to be his. After relying on his drives all week, equal parts mammoth and accurate, Johnson coolly broke from a quartet of co-leaders, making the turn in 33 and building a two-shot lead.

Spieth had stalled, Jason Day was struggling and the path was clear for him to stride forward and accept the hardware that had eluded him.

Instead, his putter betrayed him – slowly at first, and then all at once when it mattered the most.

Johnson lost the U.S. Open for the first time on a four-hole stretch of Chambers Bay’s inward half, missing four straight putts from less than 7 feet. Three of those miscues led to bogeys, and an hour after holding the top spot Johnson was suddenly trailing by two.

“I didn’t make any putts today, I really didn’t,” Johnson said. “I had all the chances in the world.”

It was the putter, after all, that kept Johnson from turning this thing into a rout.

For four rounds, he murdered the ball off the tee and flip-wedged his way around a challenging track, only to fail to capitalize on chance after chance. That trend reared its head at the end of his second round, when he squandered a lead with three bogeys across his final five holes, and it popped up again down the stretch.

“If I rolled the putter halfway decent today,” Johnson surmised, “I win this thing by a few shots, it’s not even close.”

Johnson faltered as Spieth took command, and at that point the script appeared to be written in ink – here lies DJ, once again the victim of a slow bleed in the final round of the U.S. Open, just like his Pebble Beach implosion from five years ago.

But then Spieth made an uncharacteristic error, Johnson hit a great shot at the right time on the 71st hole, and the slate was somehow once again wiped clean.

After reaching the par-5 18th green with a 353-yard drive and an easy 5-iron, he was back on the doorstep of redemption. Thirteen feet were all that remained – 4 yards of fescue and poa and dirt to cleanse him from past sins.

“On the last green, just talking to my brother (caddie Austin Johnson), this is exactly why I’m here,” Johnson said. “This is why I play the game of golf. I’ve got a chance to win the U.S. Open on the last hole.”

As the gallery waited for its cue, Johnson’s eagle effort slid by the hole. Not ideal, but not a problem – only 4 feet stood between him and a Monday playoff with Spieth.

But seconds later, the crowd’s anticipated eruption turned into a hair-raising gasp. In the span of two quick misses and a tap-in par, it was all gone.

“Whatever that putt did on the last hole, I don’t know,” he said of his birdie attempt. “I might have pulled it a little bit, but still to me it looked like it bounced left. It’s tough. It’s difficult.”

“I very much feel for Dustin,” Spieth said. “He deserves to be holding the trophy as much as I do, I think, this week. It just came down to him being the last one to finish, and I was able to have one hole to rebound from my mistakes, and he wasn’t able to get that hole afterwards.”

Johnson turns 31 on Monday, a prime age for golfers. He has shown signs of change this year, of maturing from the player whose checkered past continues to haunt him. Now a father and again a winner on Tour after a six-month leave of absence, everything appeared in order this week for his signature win.

Instead, he was left to offer another series of half-hearted platitudes.

“Starting the week, all you want is to have a chance to win on the back nine on Sunday,” he said. “I did that. I put myself in position, I hit the shots I needed to hit. I just didn’t get it in the hole quick enough.”

As his seat at the trophy ceremony sat empty, Johnson was whisked away from the makeshift locker room at Chambers Bay, off to catch a flight with fiancée Paulina Gretzky and their son, Tatum, by his side.

“I did everything I could,” he said. “I gave myself looks, just wasn’t my time.”

With the creation of this latest layer of scar tissue, somehow more cruel and shocking than all of the others, it seems reasonable to wonder if his time will ever come.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.