NORTON — There was a specific target for Dustin Johnson’s play this week at the Deutsche Bank Championship — Davis Love. The Ryder Cup captain, who holds the fortunes of US hopefuls in his grasp, has to be watching the tournament closely, in advance of his final four picks Tuesday. And Johnson, who finished the third round tied for third place, did nothing but help his pursuit Sunday.
Asked if he had done enough to make his case, Johnson said, “I don’t know. It’s up to the captain to decide that. As far as me personally, yeah, of course I think I have.”
After an all-over-the-place round Saturday – Johnson had three bogeys, one double bogey, six birdies, and an eagle on 18 — the 28-year-old was far more consistent Sunday. He drove the ball particularly well, hitting 12 of 14 fairways.
“The key for me is I’ve got to hit it in the fairway,” said Johnson, who switched to a new driver last week. “I like this golf course. It sets up well for me off the tee, and today I hit the driver well.”
The only bad spots were bogeys on 6 and 16, but Johnson survived those with eight birdies that led to a 6-under-par 65. That left him at 13 under for the tournament, tied with Tiger Woods and behind only Louis Oosthuizen (19 under) and Rory McIlroy (16 under).
That performance put Johnson in the best position of the players fighting to make Love’s squad. Brandt Snedeker (65) is tied for ninth, Jim Furyk (65) and Steve Stricker (68) tied for 16th, Nick Watney (66) tied for 19th, Hunter Mahan (70) tied for 32d, and Rickie Fowler (72) tied for 63d.
Still, Johnson wasn’t satisfied with his round.
“I played really well today, but I left a few out there,” he said. “I made bogey on 6 and 16, both with 9-irons from the fairway. That’s not very good. I chunked it on 6 and then just blocked one right on 16, but those were the only two bad swings I made all day, and unfortunately I made bogey on both of them.
“As well as I played today, I shouldn’t have done that.”
Basically, it was good. But not really good.
As nice as it would be for Johnson to win the Deutsche Bank Championship, he seems more eager to see what happens on Tuesday. He has shown Love some strong golf of late, finishing in third place last week at The Barclays, and hanging around the top of the leaderboard this weekend, as well.
“I know coming into this week, I’ve got to play well,” said Johnson, who was on the last Ryder Cup team in 2010. “I played well last week, and coming into this week I’m feeling good, confident with my game.
“It’s one of those things where it can’t hurt to play good golf, especially when he’s picking on Tuesday morning. You need to play well, so there’s that extra pressure.”
He added, “I really want to make that Ryder Cup team. That’s a big goal for me. I really enjoy playing on the team. I really think that I would be a good asset to the team, and I’ll be able to help them hopefully get the trophy back.”
Perhaps if Johnson’s golf isn’t getting Love’s notice, his politicking will.
Johnson has played well this season — when he’s been able to play. Johnson underwent knee surgery in November, and missed three months with a back injury sustained while trying to move a jet ski in March. He has mostly been in contention since returning in May, with the exception of a missed cut at the US Open.
But at the moment, Johnson appears to be separating himself from the contenders. He just needs to keep it going in Monday’s final round. He needs to continue to putt well, continue to drive well.
As Johnson said, “When I can drive it straight, golf is always fun.”
And it will be even more fun if Johnson’s name is one of the four called by Love Tuesday.
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.