Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka shoot 67s in battle for No. 1 ranking

RIDGEWOOD, NJ - AUGUST 23: Dustin Johnson of the United States and Brooks Koepka of the United States line up putts on the tenth green during the first round of The Northern Trust on August 23, 2018 at the Ridgewood Championship Course in Ridgewood, New Jersey. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka shoot 67s in battle for No. 1 ranking

PGA Tour

Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka shoot 67s in battle for No. 1 ranking

PARAMUS, N.J.  – There is a tournament within a tournament at the Northern Trust, with everyone in the field trying to win the first leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs while some golfers are also trying to extend their seasons and earn a spot in next week’s Dell Technologies Championship. Quietly, however, there is a third event taking place between two golfers, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, and the prize is the No.1 ranking.

Johnson, who shot a 4-under 67 Thursday and is the defending champion a the Northern Trust, has been No. 1 on the Official World Golf Ranking since he won the FedEx St. Jude Classic in June. Koepka, who also shot 67 Thursday, won the following week to claim his second consecutive U.S. Open title and then won the PGA Championship. If he wins the Northern Trust, he will take over as the world No. 1 next week.

“I’d love to knock him off, and I’m sure he’d love to keep me where I’m at. You know, it’s fun. It’s actually been really good for the both of us,” Koepka said. “In the gym, obviously (I’m) working a little bit harder, trying to out-train him and he’s trying to out-train me, and on the golf course, I’m trying to out-perform him, and he’s trying to do the same thing.”

‘Sweet delts, bro’

In person, Koepka appears more substantial, or “thicker,” as the gym rats like to say. Walking off the 14th green, a fan called, “Yo, Brooks! Sweet delts, bro.”

Johnson also looks powerful in person, but more fluid. His long arms and legs help him generate breathtaking power off the tee. Harnessing that power, however, was a problem on Thursday morning, especially on the 594-yard, par-5 17th hole.

“I’m trying to hit a high cut and to the right side, and I hit that ball 70 yards left of where I was looking,” Johnson said. “In general, if I’m trying to hit a high cut, if anything, I’m going to over cut it to the right, and it came off low and hooked. So I just laughed. I literally just laughed the way I hit the shot. I haven’t hit that shot in a long time, so it was kind of funny.”

There was nothing funny, however, about making three squares around an eight on his scorecard.

“I didn’t have any idea (where tee shots were going),” Johnson admitted. “None. None whatsoever.”

But that demonstrates the challenge Koepka and everyone else on the PGA Tour faces when it comes to beating Dustin Johnson. On a day when he hit just six of 14 fairways and sprayed the ball all over the course—event switching to a 3-wood on the final hole after pulling out his driver and addressing his final tee shot—he still made seven birdies was just a shot off the lead after the morning wave. His iron game was solid, and he nearly aced the 232-yard par-3 sixth hole, leaving his shot only 32 inches from the cup. After putting a blade-style TaylorMade putter in the bag this week, he made 117 feet of putts. In other words, the rest of Dustin Johnson’s game picked up the slack.

But if it comes down to a duel on Sunday between Johnson and his training partner, Koepka won’t be rattled and likely won’t back down. The former Florida State star is now a three-time major winner and will be playing on the U.S. Ryder Cup team along with Johnson. He knows that he’s right where he belongs.

Or maybe one spot higher in the rankings.

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