Dustin Johnson goes from survivor to contender

Just six days ago, Dustin Johnson was riding the bubble, which is an uncomfortable proposition for a man his size — 6-foot-4, 190 pounds.

The fact that he was one of the few players who finished their fourth round on the Sunday of the rain-delayed BMW Championship was not a good sign. That meant he was teeing off early with the also-rans — he finished 62nd — in that playoff run-up to the Tour Championship. It also meant that he had to wait around Monday to see if he would hang on to the 30th and final spot for East Lake.

Sure enough, two players had a chance to knock him back with birdies on the final hole in Chicago, a vulnerable par 5. But Jimmy Walker hit a poor chip to the green, and Matt Jones lipped out a 10-foot putt.

Johnson is making the most of his reprieve.

“Leaving Chicago, I was just more frustrated that I was struggling,” Johnson said. “I struggled with the putter more than anything. I three-putted like 10 times last week.

“After I got in (to East Lake) on Monday, I came out and did a lot of work with the putter and the golf swing.”

There may still be some work to do, he ranked 22nd of 30 players in strokes gained putting. But hardly surprising, he led them all in driving distance.

So, what exactly has to happen for the No. 30 man to win the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus?

Deep breath — Johnson needs to win the Tour Championship; Tiger Woods must finish 29th or worse, Henrik Stenson must finish in a three-way tie for sixth or worse; Adam Scott must finish tied for fourth or worse; Zach Johnson must finish tied for third or worse; Matt Kuchar must finish in a three-way tie for second or worse; Steve Stricker must finish tied for second or worse.

Paying for second: There is more at stake Sunday than just first place in the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup standings. Consider the substantial bonus money that trickles down to other positions. Second in the final standings is worth $3 million, third $2 million, fourth $1.5 million, fifth $1 million.

There will be significant jockeying for those positions as well, although fans and players may not be aware of it at the time because of all the permutations involved.

Woods back on the right side of par: In eight previous tournament appearances at East Lake, Tiger Woods never had shot three consecutive rounds over par. At least he salvaged that faint distinction. Buoyed by a 19-foot chip-in birdie from just off the green on No. 14, Woods shot 69 on Saturday.

He had been 1 over for the day to that point, going on another long birdie-less streak. Playing partner Jason Dufner, “was giving me a pretty good earful going down 13,” Woods said. “So, I was able to fire right back at him that I wasn’t shut out.”

With the day’s low round of 66, Dufner had the last laugh.

Such is the repartee at the back of the field.

No. 18 a difficult final act: Finishing on a par-3 is a different sort of spectacle, one of East Lake’s distinctions. The 223-yard 18th has much more potential to yield heartbreak Sunday than heroics. Through three rounds, it has played as the second most-difficult hole on the course (3.189 average). The long par-4 fifth hole has been the most difficult (4.311). Only five birdies as opposed to 22 bogeys on No. 18 thus far.

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