Dustin Johnson waves in a substitute caddie mid-round, plays his way into contention
By Stephanie Wei under FedEx Cup

Wait, that's not Bobby B on the bag...

After rolling in a downhill four-footer for par on the 18th, Dustin Johnson walked through the underpass, where his coach Butch Harmon was waiting for him.

“The back (nine) was a lot better,” Dustin, with a big grin on his face, said to Harmon. “Finally made some putts. The front (nine) sucked.”

DJ made the turn with a forgettable even par, but he found his stride coming in, rolling in three consecutive birdies on Nos. 13, 14 and 15. The longest putt he had in that stretch was 10 feet on the 14th. He knocked it inside four feet on the other two.

What changed?

Well, Dustin started hitting  fairways — which is crucial at East Lake Golf Club — leaving him with short irons and wedges into the greens.

“I just started swinging better,” said Dustin, shrugging. “I don’t know how and what happened. I started hitting shots where I was looking…

“The only way I have an advantage here is if I drive it on the fairway. I did it on the back nine, and I did well.  I shot 3-under on the back, and I had a lot of good looks (for birdie).  A few that could have gone in and a few that didn’t. If you get it on the fairway, it’s a huge advantage, because you cannot control the ball coming out of this rough.”

Secondly, he switched loopers, calling in his buddy from the gallery, Cameron Hooper, who was also his college roommate and teammate at Coastal Carolina, on the 11th hole.

Dustin said his regular caddie Bobby Brown told him that when he was putting on his socks in the morning, he heard something pop in his lower back. Wait, his socks? What?

“That’s his story and he’s sticking to it,” quipped Johnson, laughing.

Before teeing off, Dustin told Bobby that he didn’t have to work if he was hurt.

“I said, ‘Dude, there’s no reason for you to be out here,'” said Johnson, who shot a solid three-under 67 in the second round of the Tour Championship. “‘I’ve got friends out here who can carry the bag.’ I don’t really need much help, anyway.”

Bobby insisted he was OK, but it was obvious he was in pain. Chris Noss, a PGA Tour conditioning coach and trainer, was supposed to check on them at the turn, but when he didn’t show, DJ told Bobby to leave and get his back checked.

“He couldn’t keep up with me,” said Dustin. “He couldn’t bend down. It was kinda funny. I dropped stuff on the ground on purpose. You could tell he was in pain. I just said, ‘Get out of here, it’s not worth it.'”

Hooper was blindsided when Dustin called out to him, “Hoop,” waving him in. He wasn’t prepared, pointing out he was wearing Topsiders.

“I would’ve worn tennis shoes,” said Hooper, who lives in Atlanta and works as a financial adviser at Morgan Stanley.

Good news is he was wearing a polo shirt and khakis, along with an Atlanta Braves cap.

Any previous caddie experience? Nope. Just the eight holes today.

“There was some things I didn’t know, but I played it off just fine,” said Hooper. “The first couple of holes, my hands had a little shake to them, I’m not gonna lie.”

Added Dustin: Cameron’s played golf his whole life, so he knows what’s going on…I figured he’d at least know what to do, that way I wouldn’t have to tell him everything. I’ve had friends caddie before and it’s been more work for me than it has for them.”

Without Bobby by his side to spout off yardages, Dustin was calculating his own numbers. I’d never seen him study a yardage book as carefully as I did on the 17th and 18th holes. It was kind of a funny sight because, well, like I said, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen him do that before. Sometimes he’ll look over Bobby’s shoulder and they will talk things through, but Dustin on his own? Intriguing.

Maybe it helped him focus and concentrate more than usual. Dustin admittedly loses interest sometimes if things aren’t going his way. His best finish in three previous starts at the Tour Championship is T22 in 2010. Last year a reporter said he was walking with Johnson and his caddie at the time, Joe LaCava, when Dustin was  looking at his iPhone and giving college football updates, as they walked down the 14th fairway in the third round.

“I can actually try on the weekend,” said Dustin, who is tied for fifth at four-under through two rounds and only trails leader Jim Furyk by three strokes. “Before (in past years), I was so far back — of course I was trying — but especially when it’s one of the last tournaments of the year, it’s hard to get motivated. Right now, I have motivation. It’s different, I like it.”

Johnson is the only player this season to have recorded top-ten finishes in the previous three playoff events, with T3 at The Barclays, T4 at Deutsche Bank Championship and T6 at the BMW Championship.

Coincidentally enough, on Friday Dustin was paired with Sergio Garcia, who parted ways with his former caddie after the PGA Championship. He had a local guy loop for him when he won the Wyndham Championship. Then he asked his good friend Wayne Richardson, a CBS spotter, to fill in for the rest of the year — at least through the Ryder Cup.

When that came up, Dustin shrugged and said, with a wry grin, “I think Sergio switches caddies a lot.”

What’s Bobby’s status? I put in a call, but haven’t been able to reach him. As for Hooper, he’ll be ready in case his has to fill in again.

“I’ll wear tennis shoes tomorrow,” he cracked.

Dustin was confident Brown would be back on the bag for the Ryder Cup next week regardless of his health.

(Getty Images/Sam Greenwood)