Dustin Johnson doesn’t make it easy on his fans.
He hits the snot out of the ball, which is wicked fun to watch, but he may have to go shag it in the next county. He can go way low, despite needing 32 putts in a round (64 total in his first two this week).
Most challenging for those rooting for a guy Tiger Woods has called “stupid long,” is Johnson's hair-pulling habit of making big blunders in the most pressure-packed moments -- like when he needs to hold a lead coming down the stretch.
Which is almost what happened in Tuesday’s 18-hole finish to the late-starting opening of the PGA Tour's 2013 season at Kapalua, Hawaii. Seemingly running away with the game when he entered the round with a three-shot lead, Johnson seemed intent on giving the rest of the guys some hope.
There was the wild foul ball way right into the jungle off the tee on the par-5 ninth. He had to take a drop and a penalty stroke and knocked his fourth shot to the front of the green from 235 yards out and saved a bogey with a two-putt.
If only he had had Johnny Miller on the bag.
“I’m trying to figure out what this driver -- where this is going to end up,” the NBC broadcaster wondered as Johnson stepped up to the tee. “I don’t know if this is the correct club for him but we’ll see. Maybe he’ll hit it easy.”
He’s Dustin Johnson, so no, he didn’t, and dropped a shot as playing partner and defending champion Steve Stricker canned a birdie and sliced his four-shot lead in half.
The laid-back Johnson’s response? A bomb down the center of the 10th fairway.
But there was more trouble on the par-4 13th, when Johnson smoked a drive into the trees on the left.
This time, Roger Maltbie offered the pre-shot caution for the big hitter who was last in the field for accuracy this week (48.72 percent before the mishap on 13).
“Gotta be careful here. Dustin’s got driver again but fairway gets narrow and if he doesn’t take it right down the extreme righthand side this could end up in the left rough,” Maltbie said about Johnson’s questionable choice of clubs. “This is an awkward shot, can’t see the landing area and tough to get the ball on the fairway.”
As if on cue, Johnson’s ball skipped across a fairway bunker and into the shrubs fronting the taller trees. A lengthy search ensued and after finding his ball, Johnson did his best to reprise his soul-sucking collapse at Pebble Beach in the final round of the 2010 U.S. Open.
Inexplicably, Johnson took a quick hack at the ball only to see it squirt a few inches sideways. Another chunky shot got him to the fairway, and three shots later he was in for double-bogey and just one clear of Stricker.
Ever the epitome of Alfred E. Neuman (What, me worry?), Johnson pulled the big dog out of the bag for the 292-yard par-4 14th, and after Stricker laid up with a 3-wood, almost drove the green. And then, just like that, DJ shrugged off his miscues and chipped it in for eagle to go up by three and seal the match.
“I just hit a couple bad drives that cost me a few shots,” Johnson told Golf Channel after his win, “but other than that i played really good golf today.”
From booming drives splitting fairways, to a ball lost in the wilds, to a nothin’-but-cup eagle -- all that was on display from Johnson in Tuesday’s Tournament of Champions finale. In the end, the 28-year-old who’s the king of 54-hole events locked up the third weather-shortened contest of his career by posting a 16-under and outlasting a limping but determined Stricker by four shots.
Ending a long wrap-around week in which the weather hogged the headlines, it was certainly the Dustin Johnson Show once the winds died down and the golf took over. Not only did he dominate the field of 2012 titleholders on the field, but the big, ripped South Carolinian took over the gossip columns as well, with speculation swirling that he was dating Wayne Gretzky’s telegenic daughter, Paulina Gretzky.
But it was his play that sent a message to the big boys back on the mainland who skipped the season-opener that they may have to include DJ in the conversation about favorites to win majors this season.
“I think for sure that I'm due for a big year,” Johnson said after Monday’s 69 and 66. “I haven't achieved everything that I can. I haven't played to my full potential yet. Maybe it will happen this year.”
Now, if only each tour event were 54 holes...