Still has the touch

Dustin John­son is healthy, rusty and play­ing again

Cape Breton Post - - Sports - BY DOUG FER­GU­SON

Dustin John­son hasn’t lost his touch with his wedges.

From 107 yards away on the fourth hole Wed­nes­day at the Wells Fargo Cham­pi­onship, his shot took a big hop on the firm green and flew straight into the cup for an ea­gle. The crowd erupted in cheers, while John­son sim­ply smiled and used his shoe to tamp down the corners of his divot.

It takes a lot to get John­son ex­cited, much less dur­ing a proam.

“I’ll take it, though,” he said. “I need all the good shots I can get. I haven’t hit too many lately.”

John­son didn’t hit any the Masters. That’s still a sore sub­ject, even though his back no longer is.

The Wells Fargo Cham­pi­onship is his first tour­na­ment since a freak ac­ci­dent knocked him out of the Masters a month ago. Hav­ing just re­turned from the gym, John­son was still in his socks when he went down­stairs in his rented home to move his car.

He slipped near the bot­tom and crashed so hard on his lower back that it left a deep bruise, and the pain didn’t en­tirely sub­side un­til last week. John­son tried to warm up the next day for the open­ing round at Au­gusta Na­tional and de­cided min­utes be­fore his tee time that he couldn’t go.

Now it’s time for golf’s No. 1 player to get back to work.

“Feel­ing good,” John­son said. “Healthy, so can’t com­plain. Ob­vi­ously, I haven’t played much or done a whole lot of prac­tic­ing, but the body is all good. Glad to be back out play­ing again.”

Still to be de­ter­mined is whether the fall cost him more than play­ing in the Masters.

There’s also that mat­ter of mo­men­tum.

John­son was start­ing to look un­beat­able head­ing into the Masters. He had won three straight tour­na­ments, two of them World Golf Cham­pi­onships, and was the most over­whelm­ing favourite at the Masters since Tiger Woods was No. 1.

But he hasn’t hit a mean­ing­ful shot since he won the Match Play on March 26. Given a choice, John­son prefers to look at his time away dif­fer­ently.

“No one’s beaten me since Fe­bru­ary,” he said with a grin.

That was Feb. 12 at the AT&T Peb­ble Beach Pro-Am, when he fin­ished third be­hind Jor­dan Spi­eth. John­son over­whelmed the field at Riviera a week later to reach No. 1 in the world for the first time, and only a stair­case has stopped him since then.

He ex­pects a lit­tle rust at Ea­gle Point Golf Club, a Tom Fazio de­sign in this coastal Carolina town that is host­ing the tour­na­ment this year be­cause Quail Hol­low Club in Char­lotte is pre­par­ing for the PGA Cham­pi­onship this sum­mer.

John­son said he didn’t play 18 holes un­til 10 days ago at home in Florida. He took his fam­ily to Dis­ney World last Thurs­day — he went with his 2-year-old son, Ta­tum, on all the rides — prac­ticed and played nine holes on Fri­day, and then got so sick that he didn’t get out of bed un­til Mon­day.

The tee shots are still pow­er­ful with a slight fade, the most in­tim­i­dat­ing club in his bag. He was far from flaw­less, though. John­son hit five shots on the par-5 12th, none of them par­tic­u­larly good. Two tee shots went left, one of them well to the right. From 250 yards, he twice came out of a 2-iron and knew both were in the wa­ter well be­fore he saw the splash.

John­son said he ex­pects to play well, even though he’s not en­tirely sure what to ex­pect.

“I was on a good roll, play­ing the best golf of my ca­reer lead­ing into Au­gusta,” he said. “I’ve had a lot more time off than I would have liked to have had. Still, I feel like I’m swing­ing re­ally well. Hit a few good shots out there to­day. But we’ll just have to see. I haven’t played many rounds, and def­i­nitely haven’t played any com­pet­i­tive rounds since six weeks ago.”

AP PHOTO

Dustin John­son warms up on the driv­ing range dur­ing prac­tice rounds at the Wells Fargo Cham­pi­onship at Ea­gle Point golf course on Tues­day in Wilmington, N.C.

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