Dustin Johnson hits lucky 21 with win at Travelers Championship
Dustin Johnson broke out of a slump – for him anyway – to shoot 3-under 67 on Sunday and win the Travelers Championship by one stroke over Kevin Streelman.
Johnson’s latest triumph extended his streak to at least one victory on the PGA Tour for 13 consecutive years, and his 21st career title ties him with World Golf Hall of Famers Davis Love III and Lanny Wadkins.
“It was a long time between wins,” Johnson said of the 20 events since his previous win at the 2019 WGC Mexico Championship. “Hopefully it won’t be as long until the next one.”
Johnson, 36, a former World No. 1, entered the week ranked No. 6, the first time he had dropped out of the top 5 since winning the 2016 U.S. Open. He didn’t finish in the top 10 in his final eight events of the 2018-19 season, and underwent surgery to repair cartilage damage in his left knee in September.
He returned for the Presidents Cup in December, but his game still looked rusty and Johnson conceded that he tweaked his knee and required a MRI that revealed a strained tendon. The Tour’s 91-day suspension of play due to the global pandemic came at a good time for Johnson, who hadn’t recorded a top-5 finish since a runner-up at the PGA Championship last May.
It looked like it might be another frustrating week for Johnson, who struggled to 1-over par through his first 12 holes Thursday at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Connecticut. That’s when Johnson ran off a stretch of 17 under over his next 42 holes, including 9-under 61 on Saturday. It marked his career low in 918 career rounds on the Tour, and he entered the final round trailing 54-hole leader Brendon Todd, who matched Johnson with 61, by two strokes.
Johnson, known as one of the longest and most accurate drivers of the golf ball, got a lift from a new putter. He started the week by testing six putters, narrowed it to two before settling on the TaylorMade Truss TB1 model. The search was for good reason – Johnson entered the week ranked 134th in Strokes Gained: Putting this season.
In the final round, the short stick was the most important club in his bag. Johnson rolled in a couple of short birdie putts at Nos. 4 and 5 to erase his deficit, but surrendered his share of the lead with a bogey at the seventh. That’s when his putter took over. (He ranked fourth in SG: putting for the tournament.) Johnson poured in a 27 foot-sidewinder at eight, a 9-footer at nine and drilled a 24-foot putt from off the green at 10 for his third straight birdie. Todd played 61 holes without a bogey until a triple bogey at 12 and he closed with 75 after failing to make a birdie.
Just when Johnson looked like he might cruise to victory, he hooked his tee shot out of bounds at the par-5 13th and needed to make a clutch 7-foot putt for bogey. He responded by rolling in a 16-foot birdie at 14, but then he tugged another tee shot at 15 that landed softly in damp grass and barely stayed dry on the bank of the lake. Johnson had to take off his shoes and stood in the water to play his second shot at the par 4, but escaped with par.
“I was ready to finish out the golf tournament,” Johnson.
But first he’d have to endure a nervy trip to the finish line, which included a 58-minute suspension of play due to lightning with three holes remaining.
Johnson’s two-stroke cushion got cut in half when he bogeyed 16, but he assured the outcome with two pars coming home to finish at 19-under 261, holding off Streelman, the 2014 Travelers champ, who shot a bogey-free 67.
“Coming down the stretch, to me it felt the same, whether it was a million fans or zero,” Johnson said.
Will Gordon, a 23-year-old Vanderbilt grad playing on a sponsor’s invite, posted 6-under 64 to finish at 17-under 263 and finished tied for third with Mackenzie Hughes to earn special temporary membership on the PGA Tour, allowing him to receive an unlimited number of sponsor exemptions for the rest of the season.
Twenty tournaments without tasting glory is hardly a drought for most players but it was long enough for Johnson. Asked if he has ever played an entire season of bad golf, anywhere, he said, “I don’t think so. And I hope I don’t start anytime soon.”