By Sam McPherson
A Sunday showdown never materialized at the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis on the TPC Southwind course, mostly because 2016 U.S. Open champion, Dustin Johnson, would not let one happen. He moved out of a tie with Andrew Putnam on the first hole in the fourth round and never looked back on his way to a six-stroke victory. Johnson finished at 19-under when he holed out his second shot from the fairway on the 18th hole for an eagle.
It was that kind of week for Johnson, who now heads to Shinnecock Hills for the 2018 U.S. Open as a clear favorite. This was his second victory of the PGA Tour season, and Johnson has won at least once in each of his first 11 years on tour, surpassed only by Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. With the win at TPC Southwind, Johnson earned $1.188 million and regained the No. 1 world ranking.
Putnam stumbled from the start on Sunday, falling behind by two strokes on the first hole and finishing with a 72. However, as he and Johnson held a five-shot edge on the nearest competitors after the third round, he still managed to finish second at 13-under par. J.B. Holmes finished third at 9-under, the only other golfer besides Johnson to shoot all four rounds in the 60s at TPC Southwind this week.
That only two golfers managed to break par in all four rounds was a surprise, as the course started out very accessible on Thursday. But it was hot in Memphis all weekend, and that probably took its toll on most of the players as the long days in the sun piled up.
Ireland’s Seamus Power led the field after Thursday’s first-round action, shooting a 65 to earn a one-stroke lead over 11 golfers who tied with a 66 to open the tournament. Two strokes behind Power stood 10 more players who shot 67. Overall, the first round was a great opportunity for the field to go low: a total of 55 golfers broke par to start off the FedEx St. Jude Classic on a positive note.
After the second round on Friday, there was a little bit more separation at the top of the leaderboard. Johnson held a one-shot lead at 10-under, after shooting a 63 to go with his opening-round 67 effort. Both Ryan Blaum and Putnam trailed Johnson by a stroke at 9-under par. Blaum posted a 64 on Friday to go with his opening 67, and Putnam did the same. Power fell off the pace with a 69 that dropped him into a tie for seventh at 6-under par.
Johnson and Putnam separated themselves from the field on Saturday, finishing tied for the third-round lead at 15-under. Johnson shot 65, while Putnam carded his second straight 64. This gave the duo a five-stroke lead on third-place surprise Stewart Cink. The Tour veteran and 2009 British Open champion reached 10-under par after posting his own round of 64 on Saturday.
The two-time defending champion in the event, Daniel Berger, missed the cut after shooting 70-71 in the first two rounds.
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Next On The Tee: U.S. Open
For the fifth time in history, the U.S. Open will be played at the Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton on Long Island. The first time was in 1896, the second year of the event, when the club also hosted the U.S. Amateur. In the modern era, Raymond Floyd (1986), Corey Pavin (1995), and Retief Goosen (2004) emerged as U.S. Open champions on this course. Brooks Koepka is the reigning champion, after he won last year’s event by four strokes at Erin Hills in Wisconsin.
The U.S. Open field is always packed with worldwide talent. In this decade alone, winners have come from the United States, Germany, Northern Ireland twice, and England. In terms of pride, the Americans have a three-year win streak going, with Koepka, Johnson, and Jordan Spieth (2015) restoring some glory to the host nation. But Germany’s Martin Kaymer (2014), England’s Justin Rose (2013), and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy (2011) might have something to say about the outcome this weekend.
Two other Americans of note, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, also will compete at Shinnecock Hills. Mickelson has yet to win a U.S. Open, despite a record five second-place finishes, and Woods won his last major 10 years ago in the U.S. Open held at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, California. Both will have to cope with interest and scrutiny all week in Southampton.
Even though the first holes at Shinnecock were laid down in 1891, the course has gone through many changes over the years. William Flynn did a major overhaul and redesign of the course right before World War II, and that is the layout the club still uses today, though additional length has been added to the holes over the decades since. The course also is known for its clubhouse, designed by Stanford White, which is a majestic presence hovering over the difficult 18th hole and its green.
The Shinnecock Hills course plays 7,445 yards long and is a par 70.
Favorites: Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth
Players to Watch: Phil Mickelson, Justin Thomas, Tiger Woods
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf and fantasy sports for CBS Local. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach. Follow him on Twitter @sxmcp, because he’s quite prolific despite also being a college English professor and a certified copy editor.