Dustin Johnson was in striking distance once again in the final round of a major championship. Playing in the last group at the British Open with eventual champion Darren Clarke, Johnson survived the daunting tee shot on the par-5 14th and safely reached the fairway. When he pulled his two-iron from the bag, he was two strokes off the lead. It was critical for Johnson to give himself an opportunity for birdie or possibly eagle.
The mass reaction to the outcome was a hushed gasp (along with “WTF” on Twitter).
DJ made poor contact and pushed the shot out of bounds, resulting in a double-bogey and basically quashing his chances of catching Clarke.
“You don’t really get too many opportunities to make birdie, so it was definitely a go situation,” said Johnson after the round. “But if I had to do it over again, I’d hit a 3-wood instead of a 2-iron.”
DJ wasn’t going for the green. He was trying to lay up just over the bunkers, near the front of the green. The plan was to hit an easy two-iron with a little draw and then chip-in for eagle, at least that’s how his veteran caddie Joe LaCava envisioned it.
It wasn’t meant to be.
“It was brutal out there,” said Johnson. “I think I held up pretty well. I hung in there all day, made some birdies on the back to get back in there and just unfortunately made the double bogey on 14, which really just took all my momentum out.”
Since last year DJ has developed somewhat of a habit of making costly mistakes at the worst possible times. Exhibit A: No. 2 at the US Open at Pebble Beach last year going into Sunday with a four-shot lead; Exhibit B: Grounding his club on No. 18 at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in the “bunker-not-a-bunker” controversy.
No one doubts DJ’s talent. And I don’t think many question his mental game, either. It seems more like it’s a case of a “wrong place, wrong time” phenomenon (perhaps notwithstanding the triple-bogey at Pebble, but that was excused due to inexperience).
“The more I put myself in this situation, the better, the more I learn, the more I understand my game and what happens in this situation,” said DJ. “But you know, I think I did a pretty good job. It was very tough.”
Some players would have let a collapse at the US Open haunt them for years to come, but these misfortunes don’t faze Johnson.
While Phil Mickelson imposed a self-induced amnesia strategy last week, playing the British Open as if it was his first and embracing links golf (because of his dreadful career record at the event), Johnson doesn’t have to force it — he seemingly lets these strokes of bad luck disappear from his short-term memory.
“Dustin really doesn’t think about a whole lot,” said Rickie Fowler, who was also in contention on Sunday, after he finished tied for fifth. “I don’t think he’s going to be too worried about it. He’s someone that gets over things pretty quickly. He’s a great player.
“I love the way he plays the game. He can hit the ball a long ways, and I wouldn’t worry about Dustin. He’ll be fine.”
Few players would have rallied back so quickly from such major disappointments. Less than two months after the blunder at Whistling Straits, Johnson won the BMW Championship.
“DJ’s a fighter,” swing coach Butch Harmon told reporters on Sunday. “He’s trying to win the tournament. He’s not wanting to finish second. He’s trying to win. Darren has been unflappable. Dustin tried to win and it just didn’t work.
“He made one bad swing with that 2-iron and it cost him having a chance. I’m not sure if he would have still won, Clarke was playing so well. That’s just golf, it happens. He’ll be back. He’s one of the most resilient players I’ve ever seen.”
No doubt. Perhaps Johnson will rebound as quickly as this week’s Nordea Masters in Sweden.
“He might go to Sweden and win,” said Harmon, chuckling before pausing briefly, “then again, you know the nightlife in Sweden.”
(AP Photo/Jon Super)