AUGUSTA, Ga. – Behind the 14th green at Augusta National, a tournament marshal asked a woman dressed as if she was headed to a yoga class and with a designer handbag hanging at her chest which player she was watching.
“Dustin Johnson,” said Paulina Gretzky, daughter of the Great One Wayne Gretzky and Johnson’s fiancée, pointing to him. “That big dummy over there that just missed his putt.”
That big dummy, A.K.A. the World’s No.-1 golfer, continues to play smart, strategic golf at the Masters that has him positioned to make another run at his first green jacket and second major championship title. Johnson, 36, finished up a bogey-free 7-under 65 on Friday morning, his lowest round at Augusta National by two strokes, and returned after a short break to shoot 2-under 70 to share the clubhouse with Abraham Ancer, Cameron Smith and Justin Thomas at 9-under 135.
“I like where I’m at,” Johnson said. “I like my position.”
As he should. Johnson woke up just after 4 a.m., played 27 holes and demonstrated that his ball striking remains sharp despite missing two events due to testing positive for COVID-19 and having only one start prior to the Masters – last week in Houston – since the U.S. Open in September. Johnson has hit 86 percent of the greens in regulation at Augusta National, a personal best for any major through 36 holes.
Starting on the back nine for his second round, Johnson made birdie at all three holes of Amen Corner – Nos. 11 to 13, and made birdie at the famed par-3 12th twice in one day – to become the first competitor to reach double-digits under par for the tournament. That’s when he took three putts at No. 14 for bogey and hit his second sho at No. 15, a 3-iron from 235 yards, that cleared the water guarding the green but rolled back into the pond. Johnson made bogey, but it would prove to be his last dropped shot of the day.
“Just wind picked up a little bit and floated on me a hair and came up a couple yards short,” Johnson said.
In previous years, it was the type of misfortune that might have sidetracked Johnson, who owns the dubious distinction of finishing runner-up at all four major championships during his career. This time, Johnson showed great patience, stringing together 11 straight pars until he added a birdie at No. 9. Much of Johnson’s stellar ballstriking, however, went for naught because the greens gave him fits.
“Hit a lot of really good shots and gave myself a lot of good looks,” he said. “Just can’t really roll any putts in.”
That reminded the green jacket moderating Johnson’s post-round press conference that he did have one lip‑out that circled the hole for more than 360 degrees.
“That was on 3, about 10 feet,” Johnson said.
“Should have gone in for you, I think,” the moderator said.
“I thought so,” Johnson said.
“That’s golf,” the moderator said.
On the weekend, all Gretzky’s “big dummy” may need to win a green jacket is a little dumb luck.