Five things you need to know from the final round of the FedEx St. Jude Classic:
1.) WELCOME BACK: Playing only his second event since March, Dustin Johnson sure looked healthy as he broke through a crowded leaderboard Sunday to win by a stroke at TPC Southwind.
Johnson, who began the final round two shots off the lead, birdied Nos. 16 and 17 to shoot a 4-under 66 and win on the PGA Tour for the sixth time in his career. At 9-under 271, Johnson was one shot clear of John Merrick (68).
“It feels really good,” said Johnson, who earned $1.08 million and became the first player since Tiger Woods to win in each of his first five seasons on Tour after college. “Having so much time off, I came out and just played well all week.”
It’s been a frustrating year for Johnson, who turns 28 on June 22. He missed the first major of the year, of course, due to a back injury he sustained while picking up a jet ski at his home in Myrtle Beach. He didn’t swing a club for six weeks. After a three-month absence, he returned to competition last week at the Memorial, where he tied for 19th. He was playing in Memphis for the first time.
“I was confident coming into this week,” Johnson said. “I was hitting some good shots and chipping and putting pretty well. I just needed to get the ball in the fairway, because I was swinging my irons well and knew I’d have a lot of looks at birdie.”
Though no player has won the Memphis event and U.S. Open in consecutive weeks, you certainly have to like Johnson’s chances next week at The Olympic Club. The last time the Open was held on the West Coast, in 2010 at Pebble Beach, Johnson held a three-shot lead after 54 holes. (Of course, he then self-immolated during a final-round 82.)
“Next week’s a whole different week,” Johnson said, smiling. “It has nothing to do with this week.”
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2. OUT OF NOWHERE: He was ranked 386th in the world, and he hadn’t finished better than 33rd this year, and he’d made the cut in only half of his starts this season, but John Merrick nearly found himself in a playoff with Dustin Johnson on Sunday.
Merrick was cruising along in the final round until a double bogey on the 12th hole. He rebounded with birdies on 15 and 16, but was unable to make up another shot coming home, despite a birdie chip on 18 that nearly dropped. He was one of only two players (Davis Love III) who shot all four rounds in the 60s.
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3.) WATERY END: In a four-way tie for the lead at 8 under, Rory McIlroy and Chad Campbell each found water off the tee on the par-4 18th, effectively ending their chances for victory.
It was a particularly disappointing end for McIlroy, who showed signs of finding his game after dismal performances in his past three starts, all big events: The Players (MC), BMW PGA Championship (MC), The Memorial (MC).
A double-bogey 6 on the final hole, however, dropped McIlroy (69) out of a share of the lead and into a tie for seventh, ensuring that he will defend next week’s U.S. Open title as the second-ranked player in the world.
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4. O CAPTAIN! MY CAPTAIN! U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, who entered the final round in a three-way tie for the lead, shot a 1-under 69 Sunday to finish T-3, two shots back of Dustin Johnson.
Even though he failed to win for the first time since November 2008, Love indisputably has returned to form after missing six weeks because of a pulled rib muscle. After tying for 16th last week at the Memorial, then playing 36 holes Monday to qualify for the U.S. Open, the 48-year-old Love posted his best finish of the season in Memphis.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: John Daly shot the low round of the day Sunday, a 6-under 64 that vaulted him 38 spots on the leaderboard, to T-19. … Winless in 165 career Tour starts, Nick O’Hern had a chance to end that drought Sunday but mixed two birdies with two bogeys on his final five holes to finish in a tie for third. … Making his pro debut, University of Illinois product Luke Guthrie finished T-19. … In the final round, players went off in threesomes, had a split-tee start and teed off almost four hours earlier because of the threat of afternoon thunderstorms.