Masters 2022: Dustin Johnson laughs off almost getting knocked out by errant shot
AUGUSTA, Ga. — The golf ball buzzed his head and smacked his bag and came to rest at his feet. If you’ve ever been hit into by the group behind you there is only one reaction and that reaction is fury, and rightfully so. But Dustin Johnson is a different cat, so instead of dropping expletives or wondering who called in the urethane strike from the 11th fairway to the 12th tee—Jon Rahm being the guilty party—DJ merely looked at the ball, then at his caddie, then back at the ball and laughed.
If you’re trying to encapsulate Johnson’s nonchalance—a coolness which has been described as aspirational but other times as an Achilles’ heel—this is it, because it is a frequency he is forever tuned to no matter the situation, including, apparently, in the face of getting knocked out cold. And it’s precisely this vibe that makes Johnson a Masters threat after a opening-round 69 at Augusta National.
“Yeah, I swung it really well,” Johnson said. “I mean, I felt like I played really nice all day. … Just I hit a lot of 3-woods today because I wasn't real comfortable with the driver for some reason, which is unusual for me. Usually, it's the other way around. But I managed the game around very well and hit a lot of—I knew I was swinging good. So, I just needed to keep it in play.”
Johnson is a known entity, a byproduct of his name perennially appearing on leader boards including at the top of the massive 18th green board at this tournament less than two years ago. There are few courses that treat its past champions as well as Augusta National, so that he's in the mix on Day 1 is not necessarily a surprise. But the operative word is past on both sentiments, because Johnson’s present has conveyed another story.
Yes, Johnson reached the semifinals at the WGC-Dell Match Play two weeks back. It was also his first top-five finish in a PGA Tour-sanctioned event since (checks notes) his Masters triumph in the fall of 2020. Johnson hasn’t necessarily been bad over the last 17 months—he posted nine worldwide top-10s and became just the fifth player to go 5-0-0 at the Ryder Cup—but he hasn’t lived up to the generational status his performance over the past decade has earned. This drought included a missed cut in his green jacket defense last spring and another quick exit at the PGA Championship. There had been hope Johnson was on the verge of turning things around, tying the TPC Sawgrass record on the final day weather-wrecked Players, but nearing 38 years old it is totally reasonable to expect the player Johnson has been over the past 17 months is the player he had now become.
But maybe the only person who didn’t believe that was the player himself. Johnson said earlier in the week his swing was beginning to feel better and he was regaining control of his shots. He reiterated he felt like he was trending at the right time. More importantly, he has that disposition to be undisturbed by his surroundings, which historically means a lot given the pressure inherent to this event but especially so this week with a certain 15-time major winner sucking the oxygen with his return to the sport.
One by one players were asked about Tiger Woods overshadowing the proceedings at this 2022 Masters and how or if that return would impact their play. Johnson’s response? “It’s fine.” He said it because it’s true and because, down to his bones, he could not care less who he tees it up against.
He backed his words up Thursday, making the turn in three under and moving to four with a birdie at the 10th. With two par 5s to go, there was the prospect of something special. Well, at least to those who were watching.
“No, I was thinking about the next shot I had to hit on 11,” Johnson said about his outlook after moving to four under. “Obviously, this golf course, even the holes—obviously you have chances on most of the holes … 13, you've got to hit it in the fairway, and it's not that easy of a second shot either. Same with 15. So, you've still got to put the ball in position and just give yourself some chances.”
The rest of the back nine didn’t provide any more red; in fact he bogeyed the 17th and needed an all-world up-and-down at the last to break 70. Still, he finished the day in a tie for third, two back of leader Sungjae Im.
“It was the wind,” Johnson said, when asked about the relatively high scores. “That's what made it tricky. It was real gusty. Sometimes, especially around here, it's really hard to get a beat on if you get a lot of crosswinds. Is it helping a little bit, or is it hurting a little bit? Which makes a big difference around here because you really need to be spot on with your distances and iron shots.”
For what it’s worth Johnson shrugged off Rahm’s apparent approach on the 11th and proceeded to hit his tee shot at the 12—one of the most nerve-wracking shots in golf no matter the conditions but especially in gusts like today—safely to 15 feet. Perhaps Johnson didn’t get blown away by Thursday's wind or the Tiger circus because he doesn’t get too riled up about things out of his control. Or things in his control, for that matter. And it might just win him another green jacket.
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