Johnson out to prove his game is back

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Joedy McCreary

CHAR­LOTTE, N.C.» Dustin Johnson has one last chance at a ma­jor cham­pi­onship to prove he didn’t leave his game at the bot­tom of that stair­case.

The PGA Cham­pi­onship this week marks the fi­nal shot for the world’s top-ranked player to con­tend for a ma­jor dur­ing an oth­er­wise lost year that went hay­wire af­ter a tum­ble down the stairs forced him out of the Mas­ters.

That fall not only wrenched his back, it wrecked his sea­son.

“Ob­vi­ously, it’s re­ally frus­trat­ing. But things hap­pen,” Johnson said Tues­day. “You’ve just got to deal with them, and you know, I feel like the golf game’s in re­ally good shape right now. ... Had a good prac­tice ses­sion yes­ter­day. Played nine holes. Feel like I’m driv­ing it re­ally well again.”

It seemed un­think­able that Johnson would come to the year’s fi­nal ma­jor with­out even chal­leng­ing for one. He won three straight tour­na­ments be­fore that fate­ful trip to Au­gusta, where he slipped down the stairs at his rental home and hurt his back, an in­jury that kept him out of the sea­son’s first ma­jor.

Johnson missed the cut at the U.S. Open, then fell be­hind early at the Bri­tish Open and fin­ished in a tie for 54th place — 16 strokes be­hind win­ner Jor­dan Speith.

Johnson ad­mit­ted that he lost “a lit­tle feel, a lit­tle touch” in his short game dur­ing his lay­off, and that when he re­built his reper­toire, he “prob­a­bly did it in the wrong or­der.”

“If I would have just been work­ing on (the short game), then my long game wouldn’t have ... needed to be as good, be­cause then I could get up and down,” he said. “When you get an in­jury, it’s tough to say what to do first or how to work back into it.

“The prob­lem was, I wasn’t driv­ing it very well, so I just didn’t get many op­por­tu­ni­ties to hit wedge from the fair­way,” he added. “But I feel like the driver is go­ing very well now. I feel like I’ve got a lot of con­trol over it. I feel like I’m hit­ting good shots with it. They are go­ing where I’m look­ing. I think this is go­ing to be a very good week.”

He’s see­ing some con­crete ev­i­dence of im­prove­ment: He’s held the world No. 1 rank­ing for 25 straight weeks. The week af­ter the Bri­tish Open, he fin­ished in a tie for eighth at the RBC Canadian Open, and he fol­lowed that with a tie for 17th at the Bridge­stone In­vi­ta­tional.

On a scale of one to 10, Johnson says his game rated as a three when he first re­turned from the in­jury but says it’s “about an 8½ right now.”

“I felt like I got some things worked out in the swing that were just hold­ing me back a lit­tle bit,” Johnson said. “Right now, I feel it’s close to when I was play­ing re­ally well be­fore Au­gusta than I have, and you know, since then. The golf swing’s there. I feel good. My body feels great. I’m look­ing for a re­ally good week this week.”

Maybe a visit to a course the South Carolina na­tive con­sid­ers “kind of home” will help.

Johnson grew up about an hour from Char­lotte, N.C. in Columbia, S.C.; played col­lege golf at Coastal Carolina and slyly said he’s re­ceived “a few” ticket re­quests.

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