At the Barclays: A Little Luck and a Lot of Birdies

The Barclays, held at Plainfield Country Club in Edison, saw plenty of exciting play. But one gutsy shot may have been the most thrilling moment of the day.

Dustin Johnson’s remarkable chip on the 10th hole passed through the narrow opening between the two center trees, directly above where a spectator later took a seat. Johnson’s divot can be seen at bottom center.

Dustin Johnson’s remarkable chip on the 10th hole passed through the narrow opening between the two center trees, directly above where a spectator later took a seat. Johnson’s divot can be seen at bottom center. Photo by Steven Schlager

The golfers at the Plainfield Country Club in Edison spent all day Sunday chasing Jason Day, who never gave up his lead on the final day of the Barclays. The spectators also spent the day chasing around the undulating course, hoping to catch one of their favorites in a special moment. For the PGA pros and their fans, sometimes a little luck goes a long way.

My companion and I were walking through a thinly wooded area to the right of the 10th fairway, not paying much attention. We were heading to the 18th green, bent on watching Phil Mickelson as he closed out his round. Then it happened. A golf ball dribbled forlornly along the well-trod ground directly in my path. For a split second I had the impulse to catch it, but the golfer in me took over and I let the sphere continue on its way until it petered out in a cluster of tall maples.

It turned out to be an errant tee-shot off the club of Dustin Johnson, a wonderful golfer from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Poker-faced, Johnson headed our way, approached his ball and sized-up his next shot. The ball had come to rest near the base of one of the maples. Two trees stood between Johnson and the green. To reach the green, he would have to punch it through an opening no more than a foot wide.

A mere mortal would have played a safe shot to the left of the trees in hopes of landing it on the fairway with a clear path to the green. But Johnson has been known to live on the edge. He grabbed a wedge, stood over the ball, his back flat against a tree, and made one last check with his caddy. “What do we need here, 55 yards?” And then, without hesitation, Johnson launched the ball through the narrow aperture as casual as flicking a cigarette butt.

The spectators gasped – among those looking on were hockey great Wayne Gretzky and his wife, Janet Jones, parents of Johnson’s fiancé, Paulina Gretzky — and the ball flew over the green to an elevated landing area above the hole, just to the right of a deep sand trap. The rest was anticlimactic. Johnson chipped onto the green but missed his par putt and settled for a bogey. He would birdie the next two holes and finish the tournament at eight-under par, tied for ninth.

We finally made it to the 18th green, in time to enjoy the crowd’s warm ovation for favorite son Morgan Hoffmann. The Wyckoff resident made par on the treacherous finishing hole to end the tournament at respectable one-under par. Mickelson came up in the next pairing and wowed the appreciative crowd with a birdie to close out his weekend at one over.

Following the leaders now, we worked our way back to the eighth green in time to watch Bubba Watson chip accurately onto the green, but miss two putts within four feet of the hole for a double bogey that all but killed his chances to catch Day, who approached the same green at 14 under. Day missed a long birdie putt by inches – much to his own amusement – but proceeded to make par and maintain his two-stroke lead over his closest challenger, Henrik Stenson.

With Stenson in hot pursuit, Day opened up his lead, knocking down five birdies on the back nine, to finish at 19-under for the weekend, six strokes ahead of Stenson. Day took home a purse of $1.48 million and dominated the headlines — but Dustin Johnson’s gutsy shot through the trees, out of sight of the TV cameras, may have been the day’s most remarkable moment.

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