DJ out-Spiethed Spieth in Northern Trust win

OLD WESTBURY, N.Y. -- There are some very specific characteristics to Dustin Johnson's golf game that don't translate to most other people who have ever held a club in their hands. He takes aggressive lines, swings hard at the ball, walks after it with the nonchalance of a stroll through the park, then hits it again.

The final hole of regulation at The Northern Trust on Sunday afternoon was a decidedly anti-Johnson kind of hole. Tied with playing partner Jordan Spieth, Johnson took the safe line off the tee. ("Right after I hit my drive," he would later say, "I was like, 'What am I doing?' Because I put myself in the worst possible spot.") He chopped out from the rough, then eventually holed a delicate, bending, critical 17-foot par putt to force a playoff.

In a career known for driving prowess and field-lapping abilities, it might be the defining putt of his life so far, the most important one he has made when he has really had to make one.

In other words, he out-Spiethed Spieth.

"A lot of my wins, usually I've just had to, like, two-putt on 18 or had an easy go at it," Johnson admitted. "This was the first one I've really had to work at. So it was nice. It was good to make the putt, especially when I really needed to make one."

He even offered an uncharacteristic fist pump, one he called "weak" by his own standards.

On the first playoff hole, though, he went full Dustin Johnson.

Forget playing the role of chameleon. Johnson nuked a drive over sea and sand, one that traveled 341 yards by the time it stopped moving. He then lasered a wedge to 3 feet and tapped in the ensuing birdie putt for the 16th win of his PGA Tour career -- and perhaps the most improbable, considering where he had stood just a few hours earlier against the leader.

Spieth entered the day with a 3-stroke advantage over Johnson, and a 9 for 10 conversion rate from that position over the past 30 months. He extended his lead to five after five holes, but that's when things turned.

If Spieth's loss from a 5-shot lead at last year's Masters Tournament -- the lone anomaly in that 9 for 10 record -- was a sudden punch to the gut, this one was a slow burn. Much like that day at Augusta National's famed 12th hole, he chunked a tee shot into the water on the par-3 sixth at Glen Oaks Club, carding double-bogey and reducing his lead to three again. Three holes later, Johnson birdied and Spieth bogeyed, another 2-shot swing that cut the lead to a single stroke going to the back nine, before being erased totally with another Johnson birdie on the 10th.

For the final eight holes, the two jockeyed for position, with neither player leaving a blemished squared number on his scorecard.

It all led to the playoff, where the world's No. 1-ranked player simply did DJ things again.

While that Masters loss left some justifiable scarring for Spieth, this one -- despite the coughed-up lead -- shouldn't even register on the scale of dejection.

When Spieth was asked afterward whether this defeat would take long to recover from, he answered without hesitation: "No. I didn't lose this tournament. He won it."

Johnson's last win came five months and a day before this one, which doesn't sound like very long in mortal golfer terms but feels like an eternity for a guy who'd gotten so used to winning 'em.

In fact, he had claimed three in a row entering the Masters, before an injury sidelined him that week and derailed his season. The world's best golfers often say they want their games to peak four times per year, but Johnson's performances have run counter to that strategy, instead peaking before the majors and, apparently, after them.

It's all afforded him some perspective on whether this one meant more to him than it would have to Spieth.

"I needed it more," Johnson said. "He won The Open; he's been playing really well. After I was playing so well at the beginning of the year, I definitely needed it more."

Johnson won this one by playing his own inimitable brand of golf, yes, but he also won -- for one hole, at least -- by taking a page out of Spieth's book.

After the win, once he had enjoyed a few minutes to consider how he accomplished it, Johnson was still tickled that his final putt of regulation found the bottom of the cup.

"I thought it was going to miss, for sure," he admitted with a laugh. "It still tried to go out, even once it hit the hole. It still tried to spit back out, but it fell in."

For a player accustomed to winning by simply hitting his ball a long way, walking after it and hitting it again, the thought of making a big-time putt when it really mattered left him smiling, maybe even just a bit longer than after most of those other wins.