More of the same has DJ on verge of golf's summit

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ATLANTA – With apologies to an instant analysis world, golf careers are measured in decades not days.

It would be easy, for example, to suggest the game is entering the "Age of DJ" after the bomber pulled away from the field on Friday at the Tour Championship with a second-round 67 that lifted him four strokes clear of everyone not named Kevin Chappell at East Lake.

A win this week in the Heart of Dixie would be his fourth of the season, his second in September, and secure the FedEx Cup title. Two more good days and he will claim the Vardon Trophy for lowest adjusted scoring average and he essentially wrapped up the race for the PGA Tour Player of the Year Award by default.

Jason Day, slowed this postseason by an ailing back, withdrew after seven holes on Friday, leaving Johnson as the only viable candidate for the Jack Nicklaus Award.

There had been a school of thought, however narrow, that if Day were to win the Tour Championship and FedEx Cup it would give those who vote for the Player of the Year Award a reason to consider the alternative.

A successful Sunday would complete Johnson’s transition from long-hitting curiosity to crowned prince. The elite athlete who so often got in his own way has emerged as the dominant force many thought he would become.

Johnson is second in strokes gained tee-to-green, third in scrambling and sixth in strokes-gained putting this week - yeah, he's the complete package.

He knows it and those who found themselves suddenly playing for second place know it.

“When that guy gets going, he's tough to beat. He hits 70 yards farther than me and basically as straight as I do,” Ryan Moore said.

The bona fide bomber did what truly great champions do, reinvent themselves into a better version. If major championships are born from shorter backswings, as some once said of Phil Mickelson, true greatness for Johnson seems forged from a power fade and dramatically improved wedge play.


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But in an age of hot takes and kneejerk flybys, golf isn’t entering an era of Dustin dominance, it’s been trending in that direction for some time.

Johnson’s streak of seasons with at least one victory is at nine. Mickelson once went 10 consecutive seasons with a victory, Woods’ record is nine straight. Not a bad neighborhood if you’re scoring at home.

If he were to win the finale it would be Johnson’s 12th victory since 2008, tying him with Rory McIlroy for the second most in that span.

Johnson didn’t crack the code last offseason when coach Butch Harmon finally convinced him to trust a fade and improve his game from 150 yards and in, he just refined a package that was already impressive.

He didn’t start doing incredible things with the golf ball in 2016. Those skills stretch back long before he joined the Tour in 2008.

Kevin Kisner, Johnson’s second-round partner at East Lake, has seen this show for most of his golf career, from the duo’s days in junior golf and beyond.

“Only about 25 years,” Kisner said with a sigh.

If you can nitpick the game’s top players for particular performances, most would take some combination of Jordan Spieth’s putter, McIlroy’s driver and Jason Day’s long irons. But with DJ, the game might have a legitimate five-tool guy.

“He’s just playing that good right now. He shot 3 under today and it could have been four more [under] probably,” Kisner said. “He is putting it good, hitting it good, hitting it far, it’s hard to beat.”

It’s worth noting that Kisner didn’t qualify his take by claiming that Johnson is “hard to beat, right now.” There is essentially nothing new that Johnson is bringing to the table other than that most esoteric of elements – winning.

He’s making the game look easy, even though that assessment is blatantly unfair considering the work he’s put in to reach this pedestal.

“No. The game's never easy. I wish it was,” Johnson said in his signature drawl. “Obviously, I'm playing good right now. I've got a lot of confidence in my game. Every week, I feel like I bring the same game, which is nice.”

And that’s the biggest difference for DJ in 2016 compared to the version who joined the Tour in ’08. Johnson has been trending toward true greatness for nearly a decade, getting to that summit was nothing more than simply more of the same.