Steve Stricker waited until Dustin Johnson had the Tournament of Champions title pretty much sewn up before heckling his final-round playing partner about his take-no-prisoners approach.
“I was like, ‘Dude, what are you doing?’ He took out driver on a couple holes and he let me back in the game,” Stricker told reporters Tuesday after coming in second to Johnson’s 16-under winning score in the PGA Tour’s weather-delayed season-opener.
“But that was after he chipped in for eagle on 14 and we are walking up 15,” Stricker added. “I was like, ‘Why don't you take iron out, make me having to make birdies instead of you hitting it in the trees and opening it up for me.’ And he's like, ‘Yeah, yeah, I know.’”
Even after losing a ball off the ninth tee, Johnson seemed to have the tourney well in hand before he pulled his drive deep into a jungle of tall grass and trees left of the 13th fairway.
“We found a shoe, some sunglasses, about five or six other balls,” quipped Stricker, who despite a painful nerve problem in his left leg, joined the scavenger hunt for Johnson’s missing Penta TP5. “There might have been a guy living up in the tree, I don't know.”
While Stricker enjoyed a front-row seat to the wackiness of DJ’s round, he was hardly alone in wondering what the heck his colleague was thinking when he nearly blew the three-shot lead he took into the final 18 of the wind-blown 54-hole tourney.
NBC’s Johnny Miller and Roger Maltbie took turns playing caddie, each second-guessing Johnson’s choice of clubs before he sliced and then yanked those drives coming down the stretch.
“I don’t know if this is the correct club for him but we’ll see,” Miller the medium said prior to the ninth-tee mishap.
The long-hitting seven-time tour winner may have “a real short memory,” as Miller observed, but Johnson’s plan heading to Honolulu was not to test it -- or the compact but tough 7,078-yard, par-70 Waialae Country Club -- with his big-boy club.
“It's a golf course that fits my eye pretty well,” Johnson said about Waialae. “Here [on the Plantation Course], I hit driver on every hole and there, I really don't hit many drivers.”
Good plan, what with players finding the fairways only 46 percent of the time in last year’s contest, and Johnson one of the bigger -- but more wayward -- sluggers in the league. He may have ranked fourth on the tour in driving distance in 2012, but he was 156th in accuracy.
“You just have to manage yourself and know where to hit it and know where not to hit it,” Johnson Wagner, who hopes to defend his 2012 Sony title on fairways rated among the toughest 10 on tour in eight of the last nine years, told PGATour.com.
On the other hand, Wagner hit only 41 percent of his fairways on his way to a two-stroke win at last year’s Sony Open. And it’s not like Wayne Gretzky’s future son-in-law is prone to panic when he slams one foul into the stands.
“I've done it enough times that it doesn't really bother me anymore,” Johnson said with a laugh. “I've been in this situation enough now and I've made enough double‑bogeys in my life, that, you know, it's just another hole, and you've got a lot more holes to go where you can make it up.”