NORTON, Mass. – A dozen or so people clapped as Dustin Johnson brushed in his putt on the 18th green Friday at TPC Boston.
They sounded more consolatory than celebratory.
On pace to shatter the PGA Tour scoring record, Johnson made seven consecutive pars to finish as he settled for – at least to us – the most disappointing 60 in recent memory.
At least Johnson still soared into the lead at The Northern Trust, where he is ahead by two at 15-under 127.
“It is what it is,” he shrugged afterward. “It didn’t happen, so maybe I’ll go out tomorrow and try to shoot 59.”
That’s what Scottie Scheffler accomplished Friday, right around the time Johnson was starting his second round. This wasn’t some cupcake setup by the Tour in order to torch the record books. Throw out Scheffler and Johnson’s hot days – only the second time in Tour history that were two rounds of 60 or better on the same day – and the next-best score on the par-71 layout was 64 (shot by four players). The scoring average was 69.53. Tiger Woods made the cut on the number. PGA champion Collin Morikawa won’t play the weekend.
Still, Johnson saw Scheffler’s 59 pop up on one of the electronic leaderboards scattered throughout the course but wasn’t fazed.
“That’s a good score,” Johnson said, and then he nearly rendered it a footnote.
Johnson started birdie-eagle-birdie-eagle-birdie.
He was 9 under through his first eight holes.
He was 11 under through 11.
“A 59 didn’t even seem like a question there for a while,” said playing partner Marc Leishman. “It was the easiest 11 under through 11 that you could think of.”
But even one of golf’s most unflappable players admittedly began to feel the heat. He’d never shot 59 before. Not even at home.
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“Trying to shoot 59, you can definitely feel it,” he said. “I knew I was leading also. Coming down the stretch, you maybe put a little more pressure on yourself because you want to make those birdies or make those putts.”
As an established member of the 59 club, Justin Thomas could relate: “It’s so much pressure, because you don’t know if and when you’re ever going to have that chance again.”
So, Johnson pressed.
On 12, he needed to make an 8-foot comebacker for par.
He missed birdie tries inside 20 feet on Nos. 13 and 14.
He drove into some tangled rough on 15, eliminating any chance for birdie.
His tee shot on the short 16th blasted through a stiff right-to-left wind and stopped on the top tier, 40 feet away.
And on 17? His 10-footer for birdie bled over the right lip but stayed out.
Frustrating, sure. Disappointing, maybe. But surely Johnson would capitalize on the par-5 finisher, no? After all, the hole played only 541 yards on Friday, straight downwind, and a player of Johnson’s immense length would require only a 3-wood off the tee to leave himself a mid-iron into the green. Except Johnson pulled driver – “Just didn’t really think about (3-wood), honestly,” he said – and hit a chippy fade that bounded through the end of the fairway and into tallish rough, the ball well below his feet. An automatic layup. An up-and-down from 75 yards would still give him a 59 ... and yet Johnson failed to carry the ridge and left himself 24 feet.
Two putts later, a 60. Cue the sympathy applause.
“Anytime you shoot a number like that, you’re never going to be disappointed,” he said. “I definitely feel like the game is in good form, and I need to come out tomorrow and do the same thing.”
Walking toward the clubhouse, Johnson turned to his left and saw Tour commissioner Jay Monahan.
“You want to keep going?” Monahan said.
“I’m good,” Johnson said, smiling. “I’m tired.”
Plenty more work remains this weekend.