Dustin Johnson played golf from another planet over the weekend in reclaiming top spot on the world rankings and jumping to the head of the points queue in the race for the $15m FedEx Cup bonus.
Victory in the Northern Trust, DJ’s 22nd, was not any old victory but one by 11 shots in the performance of a lifetime.
With five eagles in a mind-boggling 30-under score, Johnson has ensured favouritism for the second of the FedEx Playoffs, the BMW Championship, at historic Olympia Fields in the Chicago suburbs.
The 125 who qualified for last week’s contest have been shredded down to 70 for the BMW, a tournament DJ won twice in 2010 and 2016 although on different courses to the 7,366-yard North he is visiting for the first time.
That puts him at a disadvantage with Bryson DeChambeau, who won the 2015 US Amateur there, and Scottie Scheffler, a member of the victorious 2012 Junior Ryder Cup team. In Scheffler’s case, the memory is bitter-sweet as he lost his three games.
Current course form for this classic par 70 test is zero as you have to go back to 2003 to find the last Major there. That was the US Open won by Jim Furyk which suggests bombers have little edge as Furyk was one of the shortest drivers on tour.
Yet with two 600+ par fives and one par three over 250, big hitters have opportunities to come into their own. There’s no cut but 40 of the 70 will be axed, leaving the top 30 on the FedEx league table to battle for the big bucks at East Lake the following week.
Lack of course knowledge shouldn’t impede the favourite as many are in the same boat and it’s hard to argue any other case when he has just followed second place in the PGA Championship with rounds of 60-64-63 for his last three rounds at the Boston Tee Party. It needed a strong pair of binoculars to find the rest of the field.
It was Johnson’s second victory of this truncated year and all his last 12 rounds have been in the 60s. Winning back to back is notoriously difficult but he is not short of incentive as the FedEx leader after this qualifier gets a two-shot start in the final.
With Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods looking no more than bit players and Rory’s driving, usually his prime asset, letting him down, there’s no temptation to go there for a bet, so the two most likely to challenge DJ are Daniel Berger and Webb Simpson.
Both arrive in excellent fettle, are winners this year (Simpson twice) and boast enviable consistency, Berger with six top-fives in last nine starts, and Simpson winning at Heritage before finishing third and sixth on his two most recent outings.
Despite missing the cut last week, DeChambeau is hard to leave out because of positive mental associations with Olympia Fields from his amateur days.
Thirty yards longer now and distinctly beefier, he took the tour by storm with a 3-8-6-1 run when golf resumed, was fourth in the first Major and takes sadistic pleasure in taking old-fashioned courses apart.
Jon Rahm’s short reign as world No. 1 didn’t go well but there were signs from Sunday’s share of sixth that the Spaniard is ready for business again. The price, 10-1, is too short for me but he is the most likely European winner in a depleted list.
Sadly missing are Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Shane Lowry who failed to qualify. The great Phil Mickelson is in the same boat but has gone to Plan B, lining up for his Champions Tour debut in Missouri. He will make an absolute mint.
Kevin Kisner, who slipped almost unnoticed into third spot on Sunday, can make the frame again. That third followed fourth at the Wyndham. He plays a similar game to course winner Furyk and should relish the clever test that is Olympia Fields.
Don’t be put off by Matt Fitzpatrick missing his last two cuts but that’s why he’s as big as 60-1. Judge him on his immediate earlier form – third at Memorial, sixth in Memphis. New PGA champ Collin Morikawa, a similar style of player, should also go close.
On the European front, the UK Championship follows two weeks in Wales and welcomes back an old friend, The Belfry. The Brabazon course hosted four Ryder Cups from 1985 to 2002 and 16 domestic tournaments, finishing with the British Masters in 2008.
The 7,233-yard layout in middle England has the cutest risk-reward short par four, the 315-yard tenth, and the most terrifying 18th, a 474-yard par four across two lots of water to an undulating split-level green.
It’s certain no pushover and Lee Westwood should enjoy being back where he won the 2007 British Masters. His two latest efforts, 70th and 34th, don’t encourage an investment but his game is entitled to come on and he did win in Abu Dhabi in January.
The Worksop Wonder is part of a “W” task force that should be contending on Sunday, the others being Bernd Wiesberger, Matt Wallace and 2016 Masters hero Danny Willett.
Wallace and Wiesberger have been plying their trade in the States and will appreciate this easier task on their first European start back. Willett posted a top-four in Detroit and a decent top-20 at Bay Hill. While the Sheffield man has since missed cuts at St Jude and the US PGA, those reverses came in elite company.
Wiesberger, a triple winner last year, made the cut in the first Major at Harding Park – he looked a serious threat at halfway – while the best US performance by Wallace, who bagged a hat-trick of Euro wins the previous year, has to be his third in last year’s PGA.
Easily the pick of Wallace’s 2020 efforts came with a fourth at Muirfield Village,
Cases can also be made for Haotong Li, who spoiled the brilliance of much of last week’s Celtic Manor work with too many disasters, Matthias Schwab, whose 2019 CV is loaded with top-ten finishes, and chirpy Midlander Andy Sullivan, already a winner on the UK Swing.