JERSEY CITY, N.J. – A short memory is one of the greatest assets of Dustin Johnson considering all the cruel circumstances he has endured on the golf course over the years.
That's not to suggest he forgets everything.
Johnson recalled with great detail his FedEx Cup playoffs debut in 2008. The format was different then, with 144 players qualifying for the first event and the field whittled to 120 for the next round. Johnson was No. 117 and feeling a rare sense of urgency.
“I actually remember on the 36th hole, I had about a 4-footer to make the cut on the number, which would have gotten me into the next week. And I horseshoed it, and I missed the cut,” he said Wednesday. “So I had three weeks off.”
The pressure remained, for the fall in 2008 was a time for players to finish in the top 125 on the money list to keep their PGA Tour cards. Johnson was No. 128 when he won at Turning Stone for the first of what now is 24 victories on the PGA Tour.
Johnson is not where he expected to be when the FedEx Cup playoffs start Thursday with The Northern Trust at Liberty National. He doesn't feel a great sense of urgency, either.
He is No. 17 in the FedEx Cup, a product of not winning on the PGA Tour since the Masters last November — that counts toward this season — and rarely being in contention.
“Obviously, need a good couple of weeks here,” he said.
The 124-man field at Liberty National — Louis Oosthuizen at No. 8 is sitting out to rest a sore neck — will be reduced to the top 70 in the FedEx Cup who qualify for next week outside Baltimore, and then the top 30 advance to the Tour Championship.
Johnson only needs to look at last year to realize how quickly it can change. He was at No. 15 in the FedEx Cup a year ago when the switch flipped on in a big way.
He won The Northern Trust by 11 shots at the TPC Boston. He lost in a playoff at the BMW Championship when Jon Rahm made a 65-foot birdie putt at Olympia Fields. And with the staggered start at East Lake — as the No. 1 seed, Johnson started at 10-under par — he finally won the FedEx Cup and the $15 million bonus prize.
He at least had some sign of form a year ago, having been runner-up in the PGA Championship two weeks earlier. But it's clear Johnson can show up without notice.
“As far as why? I can't tell you why,” he said. “Obviously, I know I'm a good player. I've been a really good player for a long time. So playing a few bad rounds doesn't really bother me too much. ... Any time, no matter how bad I'm playing, it only takes one shot here or one shot there where I get a nice feel and it turns everything around.”
Collin Morikawa is the No. 1 seed — he already earned a $2 million bonus for leading the FedEx Cup after the regular season — from his World Golf Championship title in March and his second major at the British Open in July.
Morikawa is leaning on lessons from last year, too, just different from Johnson.
He was coming off his first major at the PGA Championship, his second victory of the year. Whether it was complacency or just getting out of his routine, he was virtually a no-show during the lucrative postseason.
Morikawa missed the cut in The Northern Trust and finished nine shots behind at Olympia Fields. He had to settle for fifth in the final FedEx Cup standings.
“I might have expected to play better, that my standards were higher just because I’d won a PGA,” Morikawa said. “I was looking at golf a little differently than I should have, and I needed to go back to what I was doing great, what I was doing well to play great golf.”
Jordan Spieth is the No. 2 seed, followed by Patrick Cantlay, Harris English and Jon Rahm.
The more critical number for now is much farther down the list. J.T. Poston is at No. 70, the cutoff for getting into next week. Anyone around 60th place who misses the cut — this is the only postseason event with a cut — is likely done for the season.
At the bottom is Chesson Hadley at No. 125, and don't expect to find much stress there. He's just happy to be here. Hadley was outside the top 125 last week when he made a hole-in-one in the final round of the Wyndham Championship, shot 62 and tied for 15th. That moved him into the final FedEx Cup qualifying spot by one point.
The perk was more about keeping his full card than a chase for the $15 million bonus at the end of the playoffs.
“I'm playing with house money,” Hadley said.
And he already is assured of real money. Just making it to the postseason is worth a $101,000 bonus for finishing last.
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