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20 Under in 2020

In mid-September it would have seemed obvious to predict that the world’s number one golfer Dustin Johnson would win the Masters in November.

Johnson, was fresh off of a total demolition of TPC Boston that saw him shoot 30 under par (63, 64, 60, 67). DJ would emphatically grasp the 2020 Fedex Cup (the yearlong championship) by winning the PGA Tour’s final tourna

ment with a ho-hum -21 effort for the week at East Lake. (The prize, a cool $15 million.)

Johnson was finally realizing the potential we’ve seen in fits and starts for a decade, but what a decade it was? Johnson burst onto the scene by blowing a 3 shot leading heading into Sunday at the 2010 US Open at Pebble Beach on his way to a final round 82. Just 24 hours previously, Johnson had fired a 66 on the same track. Later in 2010, Johnson birdied 16 and 17 in the final round of the PGA Championship at Whistling Straights, only to make a miraculous bogey on 18 to go into a playoff with Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson.

It was then that a rules official informed DJ that on his approach shot he had grounded his club in a bunker, a 2-shot penalty that dropped Johnson to 6th place. (There was a lot of controversy on this call, yes Johnson grounded the club, but calling this waste area which had been trampled by galleries for a week would be like calling a totaled Mercedes a luxury vehicle.)

Johnson bounced back from all of this, started dating Wayne Gretzky’s daughter Paulina and won a few golf tournaments but a major championship continued to elude him. At the 2015 US Open, Johnson had a 12-foot eagle putt on the 18th hole at Chambers Bay to win the championship. He missed and left himself 3-feet for birdie that would put him in an 18-hole playoff the next day with Jordan Spieth. He missed. Outwardly cool, quiet and long off the tee, Dustin Johnson was proving to be this generations Greg Norman: prestigious talent, breathtaking distance and a total inability to win “the big one”.

A year later Johnson would redeem himself by brutalizing a sinister Oakmont course to win his first major at the US Open. Approaching the first tee of the final round, Johnson’s swing coach the legendary Butch Harmon suggested a conservative iron off the tee to get going. Johnson responded with the greatest golf quote since Lee Trevino quipped that not even god can hit a one iron: “I’m sending it Butch, I’m sending it all day.” For 18 holes on a brutal track, Johnson hit fairways more narrow than your drive way, he just has that level of talent.

But dominance didn’t follow. There was the late season sabbatical from golf that was rumored to be rehab related. Then there was the suspicious withdrawal from the Masters when he said walking in socks around his rental house he fell down the stairs and injured his back.

2020 was finally Johnson’s year. Dominant golf, tour championship, $15 million bucks, it would only fit Dustin Johnson’s career that he would play his best in the strangest year in world history. Then he contracted Covid-19. Because of course Dustin Johnson would be the one player who got Coronavirus. It seemed fitting the narrative that yet another chance at a major would be thwarted by a pandemic.

Only Johnson battled back. After becoming the first player in Masters’ history to shoot two rounds of 65 or better, DJ slept on a 4-shot lead through 54-holes. With all of his history, everything was in play: a Norman-esqe comeback or the most dominant four day performance Augusta National has ever seen. Win or lose, Johnson would do it in spectacular fashion. On Sunday, it was the latter. Johnson was unrelenting on his way to a final round 68, giving him a 20 under par, 268 total. Two shots better than the record of 270 that was fired by Tiger Woods in 1997 and Jordan Spieth in 2015.

The 2010’s were a decade of more downs than ups for the world’s current #1 player. A decade that was owned by the likes of Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Brooks Koepka. The 2020’s might be Johnson’s decade, yet another twist in the most fascinating career in golf.

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