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How Dustin Johnson built a winning team, then won it by himself at LIV Golf Invitational Boston

Dustin Johnson won the first-ever playoff hole in LIV Golf history to capture his first individual victory on the nascent tour.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

BOLTON — LIV Golf is banking on the idea that fans will buy into the team concept in a sport built on individualism.

For Dustin Johnson, that concept clicked almost instantly.

Johnson was one of 12 captains who drafted teams at the start of the season. After his 4 Aces GC squad finished fifth in the tour’s inaugural event in London in June, watching Louis Oosthuizen’s Stinger GC team hoist the trophy, Johnson immediately went into general manager mode.

He dropped Oliver Bekker, Shaun Norris, and Kevin Yaun and stacked the deck with Taylor Gooch, Patrick Reed, and Pat Perez.

Gooch remembered it vividly: “When DJ came up to me in England for the first one at Centurion and said, ‘Hey, let’s not lose to these South Africans anymore, let’s go and get some trophies,’ I was like, ‘I’m in. Let’s do it.’”


Johnson hasn’t had to worry about losing the team competition since. The Aces won in Portland, Ore., and Bedminster, making them $6 million richer. They made it three straight by taking the LIV Golf Invitational Boston at The International.

But on the way to winning his first individual event since joining the tour in June, Johnson had to go through a three-way playoff.

While the Aces were trying to fend off a scorching hot day from Iron Heads GC, Johnson went down to the wire with Joaquin Niemann and Anirban Lahiri in the individual competition.

Niemann and Lahiri were both making their LIV debuts. Niemann shot a 4-under-par 66 to rise to the top of the leaderboard on the final day. Lahiri shot 6-under 64 to join them. Johnson, who shot a 5-under 65, had to survive an errant shot into the woods beside the 18th green on his final hole of regulation.

They were nearly joined by Lee Westwood, who racked up 10 birdies in an 8-under 62 that was the best score shot all week. But bogeys on two of his final three holes, including his last (the par-4 3rd), left him one shot shy.


For the playoff, the trio had to play the 18th hole, a 560-yard par 5, until a winner was decided. Johnson saw his opportunity immediately when Niemann’s tee shot sailed onto the cart path left of the fairway, hitting a fan in the chest before finding a tough lie. Johnson launched a practically flawless drive down the left fairway. Lahiri followed suit down the left side.

Lahiri whipped his approach beyond a bunker to the right of the green and into the fans, leaving himself a shot that made him grimace. Niemann went bad to worse, hitting his second shot into a fairway bunker. Johnson, stress free, reached the green with comparative ease with his 7-iron.

Lahiri applied pressure with a shot from the rough that left him about 3 feet from the cup.

Johnson embraced that pressure, sinking a putt from about 33 feet out to seal a dramatic win. The ball rolled so fast it nearly took the cup with it, but Johnson was relieved that it stayed down.

Dustin Johnson high-fives his brother/caddy Austin Johnson after Sunday's playoff win in Bolton.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

“I felt like we had a really good read on it,” he said. “I might have hit it a little harder than I wanted to, but as soon as I hit it, I’m like, ‘Whoa.’ And then it was on a good line, and I’m like, ‘Hit the hole, hit the hole, hit the hole.’ And it went in somehow. I think the hole is indented, for sure.”


Johnson became the second double winner in tour history along with Charl Schwartzel, who won the individual tournament and led Stingers GC to a team win in London.

“I wanted to finally get my first victory out here, especially,” Johnson said. “I feel like I’ve had a really good chance to win every single week, just haven’t played as well on Sunday as I’d like to. But played really nicely today, and finally got the first W.”

Johnson hadn’t won any event — LIV or otherwise — all year. He finished in the Top 10 in each of LIV’s first three events, then made history by winning the tournament’s first playoff hole.

He has felt intensity over his 15 years on the PGA Tour, and he said this moment had a similar feel, especially considering the prize money on the line.

“Absolutely, if not more, especially with that check that you get,” Johnson said. “You can feel it. You pucker up a little bit coming down the last few holes for sure.”

Iron Heads had as much as a four-stroke lead over the field at one point, but 4 Aces was anchored by two of the week’s best golfers.

Talor Gooch’s birdie putt on No. 15 moved 4 Aces into a tie with Iron Heads at 30 under with three holes left. Gooch’s 1-under round left him at 13 under for the tournament, good for sixth place. Patrick Reed shot 4 under to finish out a 10-under round for the Aces.


“The juices were definitely flowing,” said Reed, who birdied Nos. 4 and 5 to keep the Aces within reach. “I think I had five or six left, and they came up to me and said, ‘Hey, [your score’s] counting, and we’re down two, so try to do something.’ ”

Gooch played a sizable role in his team's win Sunday.Andy Lyons/Getty

Staring down the possibility of LIV’s first team playoff, the Iron Heads flinched.

The unraveling was hard to process. Sadom Kaewkanjana bogeyed 16 and Kevin Na bogeyed 17 to fall two strokes behind.

On top of that Phachara Khongwatmai’s approach on the sixth hole was on target but hit another player’s ball upon landing and ricocheted back to the fairway. He had to swallow a bogey. Na recovered with a birdie on 18, but the two-stroke deficit was too much for the Iron Heads to recover from.

“To get the team victory, too, is just a big bonus,” Johnson said. “At one point I think we were on the 12th tee, I was playing with Talor and there was a leaderboard. I think we were four back standing on the 12th tee. We had, whatever, seven holes to play.

“But all the guys, I know they’re all watching leaderboards, so we all rallied really hard to get another win, and I think that says a lot about the team.”

Julian Benbow can be reached at julian.benbow@globe.com.