Dustin Johnson has been playing a version of all-or-nothing golf lately. To quote The Righteous Brothers, Johnson, who won the Travelers Championship in June with a Saturday 61, has lost that loving feeling.
At The Memorial Tournament last week, he shot 80-80 to miss the cut by a mile. This week, he’s only sticking around for one round — he withdrew citing a back injury after shooting 78.
Yet, the World No. 4 — and the top-ranked player in the field at the 3M Open — entered the week as the bettor’s favorite. Hopefully, you looked elsewhere because Johnson’s 78 in the first round at TPC Twin Cities was the highest score of all the players in the morning wave. That makes Johnson 23-over par since his victory in Connecticut.
As Johnson described it afterwards, he was skating along at even par through seven holes — one birdie, one bogey — when he hit into the water at the 194-yard par-3 17th.
“I just hit a poor shot on 17,” he said. “I hit it a little heavy in the water, made 5 there.”
A double bogey was costly, but the 18th is a 599-yard par 5 and Johnson pounded a drive into the go-zone.
“We only had like 199 to cover from where I was, 208 flag, it was a perfect 6-iron. Hit it right at it and never once did I think it was going to go in the water,” he said. “Just went in the water and I hit two more shots in the water, then I hit a good one, made a tap-in for a 9.”
Tap-in 9 — sounds familiar, right? When Johnson nearly dunked a wedge that would have been a snowman on the card, PGA Tour Live announcer Jonathan Coachman called it, “Whip cream on roadkill.”
Johnson made the turn 6-over, added two more bogeys on the front nine, and for the whip cream on roadkill moment of the day, drained a 19-foot birdie putt at the last.
Johnson to his credit answered a few questions from the press post-round, but didn’t mention any back trouble. Asked if there is any part of his game that’s really challenging him over the last couple weeks, Johnson answered, “Yeah, it’s just my iron play. I feel like I’m driving it well, but the iron play, first six or seven holes hit it close and then the rest of the day kind of struggled a little bit with iron play. Kind of the same last week, I just struggled with my iron play and makes it difficult.”
Indeed, Johnson lost more than six strokes to the field on approach shots to the green. Whatever Johnson found at TPC River Highlands when he shot 19-under 261 has gone missing and he didn’t rediscover it in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. We shall wait to see if his back improves and if he is able to play next week at the WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational, a tournament where he’s a past champion.