Dustin Johnson makes change, but not to his game
Dustin Johnson is still No. 1 in the world, just as he was at this time last year.
Nothing has changed about the quality of his golf game as he prepares to resume his Masters career, which was suddenly derailed last year.
The only change is off the course - he’s not staying in the same Augusta area rental house for the week.
It was at that two-story house that Johnson, in his stocking feet, slipped on wooden stairs, fell and injured his back. It happened on Wednesday afternoon and forced him to withdraw before he was scheduled to tee off Thursday. At the time, he was the hottest player in the game and the overwhelming pre-tournament favorite.
This year, he’s renting a one-story house. The other one has “bad juju,” said Johnson, using a word that means energy.
Going into the 2017 Masters, Johnson had won his previous three tournaments. He was the reigning U.S. Open champion and had won six times since the previous Masters, where he tied for fourth, his best finish at Augusta National in seven starts.
“Obviously, I was playing probably the best golf of my career,” Johnson said. “And it wasn’t like they were back-to-back weeks, there was a lot of space in between, so I really felt like I had my game really dialed in.”
Johnson, who was scheduled to be in the final group of the day in the first round, arrived at the course intending to play, saying he wanted to “give it a try.”
His warmup consisted of half shots with irons because he couldn't take a full swing because of the pain. After walking up to the putting green and stroking a few putts, he pulled out just before his group teed off at 2:03 p.m.
“Obviously I want to play more than anything,” Johnson said at the time. “It hurts. I was doing everything I could to try and play.”
He was relegated to watching Sergio Garcia win the 81st Masters from home.
“It was tough to watch but I couldn’t do anything else - I was still laying on the couch,” he said. “I wanted to be there playing. I didn’t want to watch it on TV, but things happen.”
Johnson had logged 57 consecutive weeks at No. 1 in the world through the Arnold Palmer Invitational in mid-March.
“I guess I’ve been here for a little while now,” Johnson said. “I feel like it’s where I should be, and it also kind of - it drives me to continue to work, to continue to try to get better, and to continue to perform each and every week at a very high level.”
Johnson is once again in fine form heading into the Masters: he has won once in the 2017-18 wraparound season and has two second-place finishes.
“I’m definitely looking forward to it this year,” he said of the Masters. “You know, I was very disappointed I didn’t get to play last year, but things happen.
"So you’ve just got to roll with it. But yeah, it’s a place where I always love going to play. I feel like I really like the golf course.”
His victory this season came at the Tournament of Champions, where he blew the field away with rounds of 69-68-66-65. It prompted runner-up Jon Rahm to refer to him as a super hero.
At the time of his back injury, Johnson didn’t realize how long the effects would linger, saying he thought if it had happened on the Monday of Masters Week he could have played in the tournament.
Instead, he didn’t play again for a month.
Though he tied for second in his return on May 7 at the Wells Fargo. Johnson said in July he still wasn’t 100 percent.
“I’m still feeling the effects of it,” he told reporters at the Canadian Open. “No pain or anything like that. But it’s still a little tight. I’m having to get worked on a good bit just to try to loosen up those muscles and those tendons where it got injured.”
His first victory since the injury came at the Northern Trust in late August. He finished with four wins for the season, one less than player of the year Justin Thomas for the tour lead.