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The PGA Tour began its second decade of postseason play with an exciting finish among its stars. The fans were excited, too. There just wasn’t many of them.
In the final round of THE NORTHERN TRUST, Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth give fans a thrilling duel and a fascinating clash of styles that ends when Johnson blasts a 341-yard drive, hits a wedge inside 4 feet, and birdies the 18th hole in a playoff at Glen Oaks Club. Welcome to the Monday Finish, where the start of the FedExCup Playoffs gave fans in New York and around the world two of the most dynamic players in golf going head-to-head. FIVE OBSERVATIONS 1. Weâ€™ll see more D.J./Spieth battles. Although they have contrasting styles, Johnson and Spieth tend to play the same golf courses well. Both have won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am (Spieth in 2017, Johnson in 2009, 2010) and the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua (Spieth in 2016, Johnson in 2013). They were headed for a playoff at the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay before Johnsonâ€™s freakish three-putt on the 72nd hole. Then came THE NORTHERN TRUST at Glen Oaks on Sunday, when the two heavyweights found themselves going toe-to-toe yet again. â€œIt seemed 50/50,â€� Spieth said of the fansâ€™ preferences between the two. â€œI think everyone wanted a fight to the end. I think the way it played out, if I had been a fan, I would have been obviously very pleased with the way this tournament went. â€œBut you know, it’s very difficult holding a lead on a difficult golf course when the guy you’re playing with goes bogey-free and doesn’t even really sniff a bogey and shoots 4 under. You know, hats off to D.J. But no surprise, either.â€� Food for thought: Johnson and Spieth have been paired together 23 times, with Johnson (48-under par) holding a slight edge over Spieth (46 under) in relation to par in those rounds. Spieth, though, has the head-to-head edge, shooting the lower score 12 times to Johnsonâ€™s nine. 2. This wasnâ€™t David vs. Goliath. Much has been made of Johnsonâ€™s 341-yard drive and aggressive line over the water on 18 in the playoff. He had just 95 yards left, hit wedge to 3 feet, 7 inches from the pin, and made the birdie putt. But while Johnsonâ€™s power is impressive, Spieth had some pop of his own. He averaged 302.9 yards off the tee, ranking 18th in the field in driving distance. (Johnson averaged 314.3, and was second.) In fact, Spieth said afterward he regretted not taking the same line over the water, which he believed he could have cleared, what with the wind change in the playoff. Sometimes itâ€™s more illuminating to examine how a winner performed in what is traditionally the weakest area of his game, which in Johnsonâ€™s case is putting. At Glen Oaks, he ranked 24th in strokes gained: putting (.667), heated up on the greens over the course of his back-nine 32, and salvaged par with a 17 Â½-foot par putt on the last hole of regulation. Without that burst of Spieth-like putting, the winner wouldnâ€™t have had a chance to wow, as he so often does, with the driver. 3. Spieth did a lot with what he had. Although Spieth started with a three-shot lead, the final round could easily have turned into a walkoverâ€”for Johnson. His birdies at Nos. 9 and 10 left them tied, and signaled that Johnsonâ€™s putting was finally warming to match his red-hot tee-to-green game, which has long been a daunting (and often unmanageable) prospect for his fellow competitors. Still, Spieth fought hard despite struggling from tee to green. His double-bogey at the par-3 sixth hole was uncharacteristic of himâ€”of the last 10 times heâ€™d led going into the last round, heâ€™d won nine timesâ€”and hit just 10 greens in regulation, his worst of the week. â€œPlayed well,â€� Spieth said. â€œGame feels good. And I recognized a couple tendencies that I got into my swing towards the end of the round that prevented me from hitting great iron shots like I did before, so I know what to work on.â€� 4. Jon Rahm looked like his old self. The new FedExCup No. 1 Johnson joked that he needed a win more than Spieth, since Johnson, who is also No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking, hadnâ€™t hoisted a trophy since the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play in late March. But they werenâ€™t the weekâ€™s only big winners. Jon Rahm, who shot a final-round 68 to tie for third with Jhonattan Vegas, broke out of a mini-slump that saw him miss the cut at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide and the U.S. Open, and finish a blah T44 at The Open and T28 at the WGC-Bridgestone. At Glen Oaks, Rahm looked more like the sensation who won the Farmers Insurance Open and rocketed up the FedExCup standings earlier this season, in just his second year as a pro. He also moved up to fifth in the FedExCup standings, an important distinction given that the top five will control their own destiny at the season-ending TOUR Championship, Sept. 21-24. â€œIt’s been quite a long time since I had such a good tournament on the PGA TOUR,â€� said Rahm, 22, â€œand it’s good to be back on track.â€� 5. Jhonattan Vegas compartmentalized well. Venezuelan Vegas, who lives in Houston, shot a final-round 65, tied for third, and all but wrapped up a spot on the International Presidents Cup team that will take on the Americans at Liberty National, Sept. 28-Oct. 1. Somehow, he did all of that as Hurricane Harvey slammed the Texas coast with torrential rain and winds of over 100 mph. Vegas, who lives in The Woodlands, slightly northwest of Houston, said his wife, daughter and mother were still back there, but safe. â€œThe main thing is the family is OK,â€� Vegas said. â€œI know there’s a lot of people hurting right now with the rain but you know, it’s one of those things that sometimes you have to learn to deal with and try to putt as much things behind. â€œThere’s not much that I can do at the moment, so you know, I’m sure they are feeling a little bit better that I actually had a good day today.â€� FIVE INSIGHTS 1. The cream rose to the top. Four of the top-nine finishers at Glen Oaks started the week in the top 10 in the FedExCup standings, but, oddly, not all four moved up in the standings. The top two, Johnson and Spieth, started at fourth and third before moving to first and second, respectively. So far, so good. Rahm tied for third and went from sixth to fifth. Fine. But because of the one-two finish by Johnson and Spieth, Justin Thomas, who started the week at No. 2 in the FedExCup, actually went backward, to No. 3, with his T6 finish at Glen Oaks. Tough league. 2. Big movers were few and far between. Only three players moved from outside to inside the top 100 in the FedExCup, playing their way into this weekâ€™s Dell Technologies Championship at TPC Boston. Thatâ€™s the fewest number of gate-crashers since only two played their way in at the first FedExCup Playoffs event in 2007. The three: Bubba Watson (T10) went from 113th to 72nd; Harold Varner III (T20) moved from 123rd to 91st; and David Lingmerth (T29) narrowly got through, going from 103rd to 91st. Watson, incidentally, has spent the fourth most weeks (62) inside the top five of the FedExCup standings since 2013. Johnson (88) tops the list, followed by Jimmy Walker (73) and Spieth (66). 3. DJâ€™s pin-seeking was statistically historic. Johnsonâ€™s proximity-to-the-hole average of 25 feet, 1 inch was not only tops in the field, and it was not just nearly 12 feet better than the field average. It also was the second-best proximity-to-the-hole average by a winner in the history of the FedExCup Playoffs, trailing only Camilo Villegas (23 feet, 10 inches at â€™08 BMW Championship). 4. Cantlayâ€™s trajectory keeps going up. Thanks to a seven-way tie for 10th, there were more than the usual number of top-10 finishers at THE NORTHERN TRUST. Patrick Cantlay, who shot from 78th to 50th in the FedExCup, was not the biggest mover in the groupâ€”Bubba Watson climbed 41 spots to 72ndâ€”but has made the biggest strides this season. The No. 1-ranked amateur in 2011, Cantlay started the year on a major-medical extension and with more inspired play could make the TOUR Championship. 5. Spieth is still a tough front-runner. Runner-up Spieth has now converted nine of his last 11 54-hole leads to victories on the PGA TOUR, which is just under 82 percent. Thatâ€™s still darn good, and approaches the gold standard in the category, Tiger Woods (92 percent). Overall, Spieth is nine of 15, or 60 percent, for his career. In 43 TOUR events this season, only 13 winners led through three rounds, a conversion rate of just 30 percent. The number would be even worse without Spieth, who accounted for three of the 13 with his victories at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Travelers Championship and The Open. TOP VIDEOS 1. DJ’s drive on the first playoff hole was incredible. But the line he took? Wow. 2. This is MUST-SEE content. Rickie Fowler goes all-in for one lucky fan. 3. Texas wedge? Yup.
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