Oct 05, 2008 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
For most of four days, the fans that braved the cold temperatures and (at times) wild weather during the second edition of the PGA Tour’s Turning Stone Resort Championship were waiting for someone, anyone, to take command.
Finally, in the last two holes on a sunny Sunday afternoon, a rookie named Dustin Johnson did just that, using power and clutch putting to beat playing partner Robert Allenby for his first-ever tour victory and a top prize of $1.08 million.
With birdies on the last two holes at Atunyote Golf Club in Verona, Johnson broke out of a crowded pack of contenders. He finished with a three-under-par 69 and a total of 279, nine under par. one shot clear of Allenby, and two ahead of seven players that tied for third place at 281.
Charles Howell III, the 54-hole co-leader with Tag Ridings, shared third with Woody Austin, Ryuji Imada, Matthew Goggin, Steve Allan, Robert Garrigus and Davis Love III. Never able to get moving until birdies at 17 and 18, Love posted a 70 in his final round.
Johnson, an All-American at Coastal Carolina University and a member of the victorious 2007 U.S. Walker Cup team, only joined the PGA Tour in January, after tying for 14th place in the grueling PGA Tour Qualifying School finals last fall. He immediately earned a trio of top-15 finishes in the winter west coast swing, but then disappeared from any contention for the next six months.
Now, at the start of the Tour’s “Fall Series”, Johnson broke through, though he only led outright once — after the 72nd hole, the only time that it matters.
In Thursday’s chilly conditions, Johnson started three over par on his first five holes, yet rallied for an even-par 72, then just kept climbing the board. He got a 68 in the first group on Friday morning, enduring both weather delays (one due to a hailstorm) to move within four of 36-hole leader Jeff Overton.
One of the tour’s longest hitters (he ranks fourth, averaging more than 309 yards per drive), Johnson saw that his accuracy problems (he ranks 195th in that category) mattered less at Atunyote, with its wide fairways and length past 7,500 yards.
Steadily, Johnson moved closer to the lead in the third round. His 70 left him two shots back of Tag Ridings and Charles Howell III when play got underway on Sunday, as Johnson went out paired with Allenby, a half hour ahead of the leaders.
Allenby made the big early move. The Australian, winless on the PGA Tour since 2001, birdied the 2nd, 3rd and 5th holes to zoom to nine under par and go in front, while Howell and Ridings struggled. Ridings, in fact, would shoot a 79 to fall far back.
Starting on the 6th hole, Allenby ran off nine consecutive pars, and that figured to be enough, since all sorts of players would rise to seven or eight under, then drift back with bogeys.
Meanwhile, Johnson moved to eight under with birdies on holes 6 and 8, only to bogey the 9th to drift back to seven under. He had a birdie-bogey shift on 12 and 13, and was two shots back of Allenby when the pair reached the par-4 15th hole.
Here, it began to turn. Allenby, accurate all day, suddenly saw his drive hook right into the trees. Despite some nice recovery shots, Allenby bogeyed, and Johnson was one back of him and Overton, who birdied the 14th to move to eight under.
Trying to regain his early magic, Overton instead bogeyed 16 and 17, falling into a large tie for 10th that included Nick O’Hern, Pat Perez, Joe Ogilvie and Charles Warren.
So it was now down to Allenby and Johnson. And on the long par-4 17th, Johnson crushed a drive, leaving him a wedge to the green that he stuck close. The birdie putt tied Johnson with Allenby as they went to the 624-yard par-5 18th hole.
With the honors, Johnson crushed a drive 357 yards over the left bunker, right into the next group. Allenby went to the right and was forced to lay up with his second.
Going for the green in two, Johnson overshot the target, leaving him a delicate downhill chip from the rough for his third shot that he hit eight feet past the hole. Allenby’s wedge third shot left him 12 feet, uphill, for birdies.
Allenby went first. His putt was dead on line, but six inches short. After tapping in for par, Allenby had to watch Johnson take the most important putt of his pro career.
From eight feet out, Johnson confidently hit the ball in the cup, pumped his fist, then watched as no one behind him would get close to his 279.
The only local entry to make the cut, Horseheads native Joey Sindelar, finished at 294, six over par, just two shots worse than defending champion Steve Flesch, who got to 292.
All of them, in the end, finished behind Dustin Johnson, who in a chilly week of golf picked just the right moment to get hot — and got rewarded with a win.