JERSEY CITY, N.J. — A short memory is one of the greatest assets Dustin Johnson possesses, considering all the cruel circumstances he has endured on the golf course over the years.
That's not to suggest he forgets everything.
Johnson recalled with great detail his FedEx Cup playoffs debut in 2008. The format for the PGA Tour's postseason was different then, with 144 players qualifying for the first event and the field whittled to 120 for the next tournament. Johnson was No. 117 and feeling a rare sense of urgency.
"I actually remember on the 36th hole, I had about a four-footer to make the cut on the number, which would have gotten me into the next week. And I horseshoed it, and I missed the cut," he said Wednesday. "So I had three weeks off."
The pressure remained, though, because back then the fall was a time for players to finish in the top 125 on the money list to keep their PGA Tour cards. Johnson was No. 128 when he won at Turning Stone for the first of what now is 24 victories on the PGA Tour.
Johnson is not where he expected to be when the FedEx Cup playoffs start Thursday with the Northern Trust at Liberty National Golf Club. He doesn't feel a great sense of urgency, either.
He is No. 17 in the FedEx Cup standings, a product of not winning on the PGA Tour since the Masters last November — that counts toward this season — and rarely being in contention.
"Obviously, need a good couple of weeks here," he said.
The 124-man field at Liberty National — Louis Oosthuizen is sitting out to rest a sore neck, a luxury he can afford at No. 8 on the list — will be reduced to the top 70 in the FedEx Cup who qualify for next week's BMW Championship at Caves Valley Golf Club near Maryland, and then the top 30 advance to the Tour Championship on Sept. 2-5 at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
To realize how quickly the standings can change, one only needs to look at last year, when Johnson was at No. 15 but flipped the switch on in a big way.
He won the Northern Trust by 11 shots at TPC Boston. He lost in a playoff at the BMW Championship when Jon Rahm made a 65-foot birdie putt at Olympia Fields Country Club near Chicago. And with the staggered start at East Lake — as the No. 1 seed, Johnson started at 10 under par — he finally won the FedEx Cup and the $15 million bonus prize.
He at least had some sign of form entering the playoffs last summer, though, having been runner-up in the PGA Championship two weeks earlier. Still, it's clear Johnson can show up without notice.
"As far as why? I can't tell you why. Obviously I know I'm a really good player," said the 37-year-old Johnson, who is currently second in the Official World Golf Ranking but has been No. 1 on multiple occasions and for a total of more than 2 1/2 years.
"I've been a really good player for a long time. So playing a few bad rounds doesn't really bother me too much. .. Anytime, no matter how bad I'm playing, it only takes one shot here or one shot there where I get a nice feel and it turns everything around."
Collin Morikawa is the No. 1 seed for these FedEx Cup playoffs — he already earned a $2 million bonus for leading the standings after the regular season wrapped up Sunday — having won a World Golf Championship title in March and his second major championship at the British Open in July.
Like Johnson, he can learn from the 2020 playoffs. Morikawa was coming off his first major victory at the PGA Championship, his second tournament title of the year. Whether it was complacency or just getting out of his routine, he was virtually a nonfactor during the lucrative postseason, missing the cut at the Northern Trust and finishing nine shots behind at the BMW Championship. He had to settle for fifth in the final FedEx Cup standings.
"I might have expected to play better, that my standards were higher just because I'd won a PGA," Morikawa said. "I was looking at golf a little differently than I should have, and I needed to go back to what I was doing great, what I was doing well to play great golf."
Jordan Spieth is the No. 2 seed, followed by Patrick Cantlay, Harris English and Jon Rahm. English, whose consistency this year has helped him win twice, is joined in the playoffs by fellow Baylor School graduates Keith Mitchell at No. 101 and Luke List at 102.
With only 70 spots available next week, anyone around 60th place in the FedEx Cup who misses the cut at the Northern Trust — this is the only postseason event with a cut — is likely done for the season.
At the bottom is Chesson Hadley at No. 125, and don't expect to find much stress there. He's just happy to be here. Hadley was outside the top 125 when he made a hole-in-one in the final round of the Wyndham Championship, shot 62 and tied for 15th Sunday. That moved him into the final FedEx Cup qualifying spot by one point.
The perk was more about keeping his full card for the PGA Tour's 2021-22 schedule rather than a chase for the $15 million bonus at the end of the playoffs.
"I'm playing with house money," Hadley said.
And he already is assured of real money. Just making it to the postseason is worth a $101,000 bonus for finishing last.