Stand and Deliver

By Randall MellSeptember 13, 2010, 4:41 am
BMW ChampionshipLEMONT, Ill. –  There were no demons haunting Dustin Johnson down the stretch Sunday at the BMW Championship.

No wicked memories banging about his head in a bid to ruin another ending.

No hint that some unrepaired crack in his armor was going to split wide open with the pressure building yet again.

“He was singing some Usher song the last two holes,” said his caddie, Bobby Brown. “I’ve never worked for a cooler customer.”

Johnson said he was singing lyrics from Usher’s song 'OMG.'

Dustin Johnson
Dustin Johnson captured his second victory of the 2010 PGA Tour season at the BMW Championship. (Getty Images)
“I got that song stuck in my head,” Johnson, 26, said after winning the third leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs at Cog Hill in Chicago. “I was definitely singing it over golf shots today.”

'OMG' is a love song, and maybe that was fitting, because Johnson’s been feeding off the love from the Midwestern crowds in his first return to this part of the country since he lost the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in heart-wrenching fashion last month.

“It seems like 99 out of 100 people are cheering for him,” Brown said.

Fans have been rooting hard for Johnson to overcome the controversial blow that led to his loss at Whistling Straits, the penalty for grounding a club in a bunker that his caddie still insists wasn’t really a bunker at the final hole of the PGA Championship.

“It wasn’t a bunker!” has become the rallying cry Johnson keeps hearing out here.

“Hear it about every hole,” Johnson said.

Brown can smile hearing it now, but he got as much heat as Johnson for failing to recognize his player was standing in a bunker in that ending to the PGA Championship, albeit a bunker that was crowded with golf patrons.

“I will be the first one to tell you I think we were in a wash-out area left of that bunker at Whistling Straits,” Brown said as he packed up his player’s bag after Sunday’s victory, the fourth of Johnson’s young career and his second this season. “That’s all I can say.”

Brown will tell you Johnson carries no bitterness about that ruling, nor does he protect tender scars from his U.S. Open loss in June. Johnson’s blowing the final-round lead at Pebble Beach had to be nearly as painful as the PGA Championship loss. He went from three shots up to three shots down in dizzying speed over the first four holes that head-spinning Sunday three months ago.

Two crushing major championship losses in one summer are enough to crush the spirit of the strongest player. Golf’s seen players disappear after less.

“He’s gone through a lot,” said Paul Casey, who finished a shot back of Johnson and knows something about trying to rebound from heartache. Casey played himself into contention this weekend in the wake of his disappointment over being passed up as a captain’s pick for the European Ryder Cup team.

It’s a testament to Johnson’s unbreakable spirit that he’s come back to win a big event so quickly. And make no mistake, Sunday’s BMW Championship was large. Johnson leaped to second on the FedEx Cup points list going to the Tour Championship in two weeks. He trails only Matt Kuchar in his bid to win the FedEx Cup and the $10 million jackpot that goes with it. He’s also now in position to win PGA Tour Player of the Year honors.

“I think this is the biggest win for sure,” Johnson said.

The way Johnson closed at Cog Hill made the victory all the more satisfying.

He did it fearlessly, attacking with his driver over the final two holes when the pressure was the greatest. That’s the club that failed him at the finish at Whistling Straits. He wouldn’t have been in that controversial spot in a “bunker” if he hadn’t hit his driver so wildly to the right.

Tied for the lead with Casey at the 17th hole Sunday at Cog Hill, Johnson cut the corner of the dogleg there with a 308-yard cut that he held against the wind. His controlled rocket split the fairway. With a 54-degree wedge in hand, Johnson delicately coaxed a shot to 2 feet to set up what would prove to be the winning birdie.

At the 18th, Johnson didn’t hesitate plucking driver from his bag yet again. He launched this drive 315 yards, holding a cut into a crosswind yet again. He hit the fairway there, too.

“He nutted driver,” Brown said.

That shot's a testament to his nerve because he's just learning to trust the fade under the tutelage of his new coach, Butch Harmon. The shot set up a smart approach to the safe side of the 18th green and a solid two-putt for the win.

“To finally get it done, especially after all the things I’ve gone through this summer, to finally get it done on Sunday, it can’t feel any better,” Johnson said.
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Azinger: 'Can't see anybody beating Tiger' at his best

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:44 pm

There's a new world No. 1, and a fresh crop of young guns eager to make their mark on the PGA Tour in 2019. But according to Paul Azinger, the player with the highest ceiling is still the same as it was when he was walking inside the ropes.

Azinger was named Monday as lead golf analyst for NBC Sports, and on "Morning Drive" he was asked which player is the best when all are playing their best. The former PGA champion pondered new world No. 1 Brooks Koepka and former No. 1 Dustin Johnson, but he came back around to a familiar answer: Tiger Woods.

"I just can't see anybody beating Tiger when Tiger's at his best. I just can't see it," Azinger said. "He's not his best yet, but he's almost his best. And when Tiger's his best, there's more that comes with Tiger than just the score he shoots. That crowd comes with Tiger, and it's a whole 'nother dynamic when Tiger's at his best. And I'm just going to have to say that when Tiger's at his best, he's still the best."

Woods, 42, started this year ranked No. 656 in the world but had a resurgent season that included a pair of near-misses at The Open and PGA Championship and culminated with his win at the Tour Championship that ended a five-year victory drought. For Azinger, the question now becomes how he can follow up a breakthrough campaign as he looks to contend consistently against players from a younger generation.

"That's why we watch, to see if he can maintain that. To see what he's capable of," Azinger said. "Now longevity becomes the issue for Tiger Woods. In seven or eight years, he's going to be 50 years old. That goes fast. I'm telling you, that goes really fast."

When Woods returns to action, he'll do so with a focus on the upcoming Masters as he looks to capture the 15th major title that has eluded him for more than a decade. With bombers like Koepka and Johnson currently reigning on the PGA Tour, Azinger believes the key for Woods will be remaining accurate while relying on the world-class iron play that has been a strength throughout his career.

"I think he's going to have to recognize that he's not the beast out there when it comes to smacking that ball off the tee. But I'd like to see him try to hit a couple more fairways periodically. That'd be nice," he said. "If he can drive that ball in the fairway, with that putter, we've seen what his putter is capable of. The sky's the limit, boys."

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Spieth drops out of top 10 for first time since 2014

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:08 pm

As Brooks Koepka ascended to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking, a former No. 1 continued a notable decline.

Jordan Spieth didn't play last week's CJ Cup, where Koepka won by four shots. But Jason Day did, and his T-5 finish in South Korea moved him up two spots from No. 12 to No. 10 in the latest rankings. Spieth dropped from 10th to 11th, marking the first time that he has been outside the top 10 in the world rankings since November 2014.

Since that time, he has won 12 times around the world, including three majors, while spending 26 weeks as world No. 1. But he hasn't won a tournament since The Open last July, and this year he missed the Tour Championship for the first time in his career. Spieth is expected to make his season debut next week in Las Vegas at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

Koepka and Day were the only movers among the top 10 on a week that saw many top players remain in place. Sergio Garcia's rain-delayed win at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters moved him up four spots to No. 27, while Gary Woodland went from 38th to 30th after finishing second behind Koepka on Jeju Island.

Koepka will tee off as world No. 1 for the first time this week at the WGC-HSBC Champions, where new No. 2 Dustin Johnson will look to regain the top spot. Justin Rose is now third in the world, with Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler and Day rounding out the top 10.

With his next competitive start unknown, Tiger Woods remained 13th in the world for the fifth straight week.

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Pavin's season nearly ends after slow-play penalty

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 1:50 pm

Corey Pavin's season on the PGA Tour Champions nearly came to an end because of a slow-play penalty.

Penalties for pace are often discussed or threatened, but rarely doled out on either the PGA Tour or the over-50 circuit. But that changed Sunday during the final round of the Dominion Energy Charity Classic, where Pavin was told by a rules official after completing his round that he would receive a 1-stroke penalty for slow play.

The penalty was on the surface rather harmless, turning an even-par 72 into a 1-over 73 and dropping Pavin into a tie for 15th. But this was the first event of a three-tournament postseason for PGA Tour Champions players, and only the top 54 in points advanced to this week's Invesco QQQ Championship.

Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic

Pavin, who has two top-10 finishes in 20 starts this season, barely held on at 53rd place after the penalty was enforced.

Slow-play discussions came up earlier this season surrounding Bernhard Langer at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, but Golf Channel analyst Lanny Wadkins expressed his surprise on the telecast that it was Pavin who got a shot added to his score.

"Of all the things to happen with all the times I have played - I can't even count the number of rounds - I never thought Corey Pavin was a slow player," Wadkins said. "All the guys we know are slow players have never been penalized out here. Where has this been for the last 15 years?"

The subject of the penalty also raised an eyebrow from Stephen Ames, who finished alongside Pavin in 15th place while Langer finished second behind Woody Austin:

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Azinger 'lobbied' to captain Ryder Cup team a second time

By Rex HoggardOctober 22, 2018, 1:47 pm

In 2008, Paul Azinger became the first U.S. Ryder Cup captain in nearly a decade to lead a team to victory, doing so at Valhalla with his innovative “pod” system and a player-driven approach to leadership.

In the wake of that victory there were many, including the vast majority of his players, who said Azinger deserved a second chance to captain, but at the time the 12-time PGA Tour winner appeared to be undecided and the PGA of America named Corey Pavin the 2010 captain.

On Monday, Azinger was named NBC Sports/Golf Channel’s lead analyst starting next year and among many revelations during an extended interview on “Morning Drive” he explained how much he wanted a second chance to captain.

“I wanted to do it again, I lobbied to do it again after we won in ’08, but I think I waited a little too long and they had already made a decision,” Azinger said. “The excuse I got was that there are more captains than there are Ryder Cups and I thought that was fair, but then they asked [Tom] Watson to do it again shortly afterward and I was like, ‘What, huh?’”

Watson was named captain of the 2014 U.S. team, which lost by five points and led to the creation of the Ryder Cup task force, which adopted many of Azinger’s ideas including his use of four-player pods.

It’s even more curious that Azinger was never given a second chance considering that Davis Love III was also named a captain twice, first in 2012 and again in ’16.

“I didn’t do it again, I didn’t carry the flag to Europe in 2010, which is fine, and now I’m never going to get to do it again,” he said.

As for who may be named the next U.S. captain after another loss to the Europeans last month in France Azinger could only speculate. “Looks like Wisconsin [site of the 2020 matches at Whistling Straits] and Steve Stricker are going to be a perfect match,” he said.