The Punxsutawney Spirit

Dustin Johnson looking to get back on track at PGA

- By Doug Ferguson AP Golf Writer

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth are examples of how quickly the landscape can change.

Look back one year, and Johnson was the No. 1 player in the world who had been runner-up in the previous two PGA Championsh­ips and among the favorites every time he played.

Going into this PGA Championsh­ip, which starts Thursday at Southern Hills, he is No. 12. It's not the end of the world, but it's his lowest ranking in seven years, and the questions have changed. Instead of when he will add another major, it's about when he will win again.

Johnson has gone 27 starts over 15 months since winning the Saudi Internatio­nal.

“The thing for me has just been driving,” Johnson said. He thought back to the Masters, where his driver was behaving so badly he switched to a 3-wood. That's not a bad option for most players, just not Johnson.

“I've never done that in my life — 3-wood is the last club in my bag that I'd want to hit,” he said. “I've always felt most comfortabl­e with a driver.”

That would be a good club for him at Southern Hills after its acclaimed restoratio­n project. Unlike the last time the PGA was here in 2007 and players were hitting mostly irons off the tee. Now that it's at 7,556 yards for a par 70, the driver could go a long way.

“Obviously, this is a really good place to drive it straight for me,” Johnson said.

He arrived on Monday, taking those long strides up the hill toward the clubhouse, when Johnson was asked if it was his first time in Oklahoma.

“Yep," he said. “And after this week, it will be my ... . ” He finished the sentence with a smile. At age 38, and with no major on the horizon here for the next eight years, well, he'd like to make the most of his time in the Sooner State.

A year ago, Spieth was No. 28 in the world, a month away from ending a long victory drought but still far away from his game being back to the form that made him a major force in golf at age 21.

Now the 28-year-old from Texas is No. 8 and coming off a particular­ly good stretch that followed an irritating missed cut at the Masters. Spieth won in Hilton Head the following week and then finished one shot behind in Dallas last week.

The PGA Championsh­ip is all that's keeping him from the career Grand Slam, which is one of the key talking points this week. Spieth brought up the missing leg of the Grand Slam as the “elephant in the room."

But for the state of golf, it's starting to feel like a herd of pachyderms.

Where's Phil Mickelson, the defending PGA champion? And what will he do next when he emerges from this self-imposed exile over his comments on the Saudifunde­d golf series that seemingly offended both sides?

Tiger Woods still commands all the attention. The gallery was enormous for him playing nine holes on Monday and again on Wednesday in his final tune-up for his return to Southern Hills. Those around him felt it was a victory that he made it through 72 holes at the Masters in his first competitiv­e tournament since his car crash.

“I've gotten stronger since then,” Woods said.

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