Planet Golf — 11 June 2012 by Bob Sherwin
Watch Dustin Johnson at the Open

Another strong contender for the U.S. Open Championship stepped forward Sunday.

Dustin Johnson, slowed down by health issues, among other setbacks this season, won the FedEx St. Jude Classic with a 4-under 66 to win by one shot over John Merrick at 9-under 271.

Johnson’s final-round score is the lowest final round by a winner since Brian Gay in 2009 and equals the second-lowest at the event since TPC Southwind was changed to a par-70 in 2005.

Johnson wins in just his second start since missing nearly three months with a back injury – as well as off-season knee surgery.

“Well, it feels really good, especially having so much time off, coming back,” Johnson said in his post-victory press conference. “You know, last week (The Memorial)  helped a lot competing and getting back in the groove of things. And then, you know, I came out this week and I really — I just played well all week.

“I had knee surgery in the off-season. And then right before the Masters, I don’t remember the date, it was right before the Masters that I just pulled a muscle in the back. And, you know, it’s fine now. I rested it, did a lot of physical therapy on it, and, you know, stim and ice and manual work. Everything’s good, feeling healthy and great. Glad to be back out here.”

Johnson, who infamously missed his chance to win the 2010 PGA Championship when he took a two-stroke penalty for mistakenly grounded his club in a bunker, now is among the favorites to win the Open. It begins Thursday at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.

He joins Tiger Woods, winner of The Memorial a week ago, defending Open champion Rory McIIroy, Masters Champion Bubba Watson, WGC-Match Play champion Hunter Mahan and Phil Mickelson as the Open headliners.

“Yeah. I mean, you know, I wasn’t worried about the Open today,” Johnson said. “I was worried about winning the FedEx. Next is a whole different week. It has nothing to do with this week. I’m going to go out and get a game plan together to play that golf course and stick with it. Hopefully just give myself a chance to win on Sunday.”

Johnson’s closing round is his lowest since he fired a 65 in the third round en route to winning The Barclays in 2011.

He earned his sixth PGA victory at the age of 27 years, 11 months and 19 days in his 109th start. He also is the first player since Tiger Woods (1996-2000) to go directly from college and win in each of his first five seasons on the PGA Tour.

His six wins are the most by players currently in their 20s: Johnson (6), Sean O’Hair (4), Anthony Kim (3) and Rory McIlroy (3).

McIIroy used the FedEx tournament as a warmup for the Open. He finished in a tie for seventh, three shots behind Johnson. He found the water on his 72nd hole for a double bogey to take him out of a possible championship.

Davis Love III had his own compelling story. The 48-year-old Love finished in a tie for third, two behind the winner. It’s his first top 10 finish this season and best showing since a second in the 2009 season-opening Hyundai.

Love, who was a third-round co-leader, was trying to become the first player to win in the same year they were selected captain of the United States Ryder Cup team since Arnold Palmer was a playing captain in 1963.

Tour veteran John Daly, competing this season primarily on sponsor’s exemptions, equaled the low round of the week with a 6-under 64 Sunday, a 12-shot improvement from his third-round 76, to finish T19. He won $67,872.

One fact to keep in mind for Johnson as he heads to the Olympic Club. No player has won the week prior to the U.S. Open and gone on to win the following week.

CHINA CHAMPION

Shanshan Feng, a 22-year-old from Guangzhou, China, became the first golfer from mainland China to win a LPGA event when she won the Wegmans LPGA Championship Sunday. She shot a 5-under 67 to come from three shots down to edge Stacy Lewis and Suzann Petterson by two strokes.

“I would say first of all I’m really, really, happy that I won the tournament,” Feng said. “I still can’t believe it. I think after this week it’s going to give me a lot more confidence. I believe I can win again in the future.

“And hopefully it’s going to help golf in China because I want to be (tennis star) Li Na for golf in China. I want to be like a model that the other juniors can follow my steps and get on the LPGA.”

Earlier this year, Feng became the first player from China to win on the Ladies European Tour back and captured a victory on the JLPGA Tour on May 27.

“I think winning twice in Japan last year really helped on the mental side,” Feng said. “I think I’ve always been a good ball striker but my short game is usually a little weak. That’s my weak part. So there in the off season I focused on practicing short game like chipping and putting and I think it worked.

“I think I’m just lucky,” she added. “There are good players from China, young players, right now. I became the first one, but I’m sure there will be a second, third, more people winning in the States and winning majors.”

REPEAT CHAMPION

Tom Lehman enhanced his career credentials Sunday, defending his Regions Tradition championship with a two-stroke victory over Bernard Langer.

It was his first victory of the season, his sixth career Champions Tour win and his third major victory on the Champions Tour. He’s the first player to defend a championship Tour event since John Cook did it in ’09 and ’10 at the Schwab Cup.

Lehman also climbed to second place in the Charles Schwab standings behind Langer, who has yet to win this season.

“I have a lot of respect for Bernhard, huge amount of respect,” Lehman said. “He’s been a great player for a long, long time and he’s very, very accomplished and he’s done so much in golf. On top of that, I look up to him as a person, he’s an amazing human being.

“Anytime you can be in the same sentence or the same paragraph or on the same leaderboard as Bernard Langer, you’ve accomplished something, something to be proud of, so I feel good about that.”

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Bob Sherwin

Bob grew up in Cleveland, an underdog city with perennial underdog teams, and that gave him an appreciation and an affinity for the grinders in golf, guys such as Rocco Mediate, Jhonattan Vegas and star-crossed John Daly. This is the 46th year for Bob as a sportswriter, the first 34 working for newspapers throughout the west, Tucson (Daily Star), San Francisco (Examiner) and Seattle (Times), and the past 10 years as a freelancer. He has covered just about every sport, including golf tournaments, Tucson Open, Bing Crosby/AT&T Pro-Am, the 1998 PGA Championship, the 2010 U.S. Senior Open, the 2010 U.S. Amateur the 2015 U.S. Open and the annual Champions Tour Boeing Classic. He also writes articles for golf magazines. For most of his 20 years at the Seattle Times his primary beat was the Mariners. He then picked up Washington men's basketball in the winter. He also was the beat writer for the Sonics, including 1996 when they played the Bulls for the NBA title. After a lifetime hacking on public courses, he finally gave in and joined a country club in 2011, the Members Club of Aldarra near Seattle. Despite (or perhaps because) of his 14 handicap, he won the 'Super Senior'' (65 and older) championship in 2017. He has a pair of aces – 37 years apart – and in 2009 came agonizingly close to his ultimate golf goal of scoring in the 70s when he finished with an even 80. He lives in Seattle, and spends part of his winters in Marco Island, Fla.

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