Golf is a fickle game. Just ask Dustin Johnson about his past two PGA Tour outings.
Last month, the world’s No. 4-ranked player won the Travelers Championship in his — and the tour’s — third tournament back from a season suspended three months by the coronavirus pandemic. It was his 21st tour victory and extended his streak of consecutive years with at least one tournament won to 13 years.
Last week, he shot 80-80 the first two days at Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament, missed the Friday cut, and was at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine by Sunday afternoon playing a nine-hole practice round in advance of this week’s 3M Open.
“Well, obviously, last week was a bit of a struggle for a lot of different reasons,” Johnson said Tuesday during his on-site videoconference call interview.
He took two weeks off after he won the Travelers in Connecticut before he played a firm, fast Muirfield Village course set up more for a major championship than a weekly tour event.
It sent the 2016 U.S. Open champion on to Minnesota early, just three weeks after he won for the first time in 16 months at the WGC-Mexico in February 2019.
A long hitter who didn’t hit particularly straight that Sunday at the Travelers, Johnson improved his putting and iron play from his first two weeks back after the pandemic pause.
He did so well enough he finished a stroke ahead of runner-up Kevin Streelman, who said afterward, “Dustin is playing beautifully. He’s obviously tough to compete with when he’s on top of his game.”
At his best, Johnson, 36, has been good enough to win once every year since his rookie season in 2008.
Only Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmers (both 17), Billy Casper (16) and Lee Trevino and Tiger Woods (14) have had such streaks longer than Johnson’s 13 years.
“Any time you’re mentioned with those guys — with Tiger, Jack, I think Arnie — you’ve got to feel good about that because they’re the best that has ever played this game,” Johnson told reporters after winning the Travelers.
“I’m proud of them all, obviously. I mean, winning the U.S. Open at Oakmont is my biggest accomplishment for sure. But winning 13 years straight on the tour is a pretty big accomplishment. You know, they’re pretty close with what I’m most proud of.”
He comes to Blaine in an uncommon stretch in which he’ll play four consecutive weeks, starting with last week’s Memorial and finishing with next week’s WGC-Memphis and the PGA Championship at Harding Park in San Francisco after that.
He’ll do so chasing FedExCup points, in which he currently ranks 25th.
All of them are made-for-TV events with no spectators allowed, but with plenty of money, points and trophies still on the line.
“I’d like to, you know, climb up for sure,” Johnson said Tuesday. “I’m looking for a good tournament.”
Johnson will have had four days’ range work and nine-hole practice rounds to familiarize himself with what four-time major winner Brooks Koepka calls “a bit of a bomber’s golf course” by the time the first ball is struck Thursday morning.
“If you drive it well out here, you can really take advantage,” said Koepka, who finished 65th in the inaugural 3M Open last year.
Johnson is tied for 26th in driving distance this season and is 72nd in driving accuracy. He’s also 14th in strokes gained off the tee, 183rd in strokes gained around the green, 129th in putting and second in eagles.
“I’ve had some good practice, so I feel like the game’s in good form,” said Johnson, the world’s No 1-ranked player for 64 consecutive weeks in 2017 and 2018.
“I actually felt like the game was in good form going into the Memorial last week. I just struggled. It was one of those weeks. I’ve still got a lot of confidence in what I’m doing. I feel like the game’s there.”
Johnson has played three previous events in Minnesota, all at Hazeltine National Golf Club: the 2016 Ryder Cup, the 2009 PGA Championship and the 2006 U.S. Amateur, where he advanced to the match-play rounds.
“The Ryder Cup there at Hazeltine, the crowds were unbelievable, so obviously we’re going to miss out on that this year,” he said. “I’ve been up in this area a few times — never been to this golf course — and I’ve always enjoyed it.
“I like this golf course. I think it sets up well for me. A lot better than last week’s golf course.”