It is fitting that the FedEx Cup Playoffs started with one of the great playoffs in recent memory. Dustin Johnson took The Northern Trust on Sunday in a one-hole playoff over Jordan Spieth by hitting two of the more memorable shots of his incredibly dynamic career.
Spieth, who came in having closed nine of his last 10 leads after 54 holes, opened a five-stroke margin on Johnson after leading by just three on the first tee box. Spieth birdied two of the first five holes, and it looked like he was going to dart away from the jungle cat before Johnson even had a chance to lick his lips.
A double on the sixth undid him, though, and Johnson never made a mistake. The now-four time winner this season did not make a bogey all day. After another bogey from Spieth at the ninth, Johnson let his prey come all the way back to him before pouncing.
Johnson birdied the ninth and 10th holes and the two were tied with nobody else in sight. Two birdies each over the next six holes set up a dramatic, if birdie-free, final two. Each blocked his shot on the lengthy par-3 17th into the sand, and each got up and down. But Spieth had to hit a 20-footer for his par. As Spieth is wont to do late in big-time tournaments, he nailed it.
Johnson had to lay up on the 475-yard par-4 18th because he pushed his drive in the rough. His third shot, from 86 yards, settled to just under 20 feet as well, and he knew he'd need that for par and to get into a playoff with Spieth, who had a tidy three feet for his own par.
Spieth won the lottery and hit first. With the adrenaline flowing, he pumped a 314-yard drive on a nice line.
Johnson's drive left him with 94 yards into the 475-yard par-4 finishing hole.
Johnson stuck his approach to three feet with a 60-degree wedge, and a last gasp from Spieth came up wanting. The inevitable Spieth steamroll had been reversed. Johnson chased him down with an outrageous putt in regulation and then he ran him over in the playoff.
Rory McIlroy tied for 34th, Rickie Fowler tied for 20th and Hideki Matsuyama missed the cut.
The FedEx Cup Playoffs continue next week.