You can be forgiven if it slipped your mind that Dustin Johnson has been the No. 1 ranked golfer in the world for 13 months.
Johnson aims to get back on the print, digital and broadcast “front page” when he begins defense of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play championship at Austin, Texas.
He will be grouped with Kevin Kisner, Adam Hadwin and Bernd Wiesberger starting Wednesday.
“Obviously last year I had a really good match play. And to come back and try to defend again is something that I’m looking forward to,” Johnson said Tuesday. “I feel like I haven’t seen the golf course yet, but I’m sure it’s in as good of shape as it always is. Exciting to be back.”
Johnson found near perfection with his game in Austin last year and came to this event on a roll, having won his previous two tournaments. That full-circle sort of game will be necessary for a repeat this week.
He was able to hold back since he did not face a tough challenge until the semifinals.
“I drove it well, hit good iron shots. I was putting well. I think every match I played,” he said. “If I want a chance to repeat, then I’m going to have to do a lot of the same things, which is I’m going to have to play good every single match.”
The match-play format here can be somewhat confusing for casual fans. For pros like Johnson, it means a different, more difficult, and singularly-focused mindset.
“It’s just you versus one other guy. The only kind of — you’re only worried about that match, really. It doesn’t matter what the rest of the guys are doing. But it’s something that is — I always enjoy playing it. As far as how to be a really good match play player, I’m not really sure … Playing good golf, I think. That takes care of it. If you play well usually that takes care of your opponent.”
For several years, Johnson struggled with the format here. He says the issue was a lack of comfort with the course, not so much in his game.
“I don’t want to talk bad about any golf course, but it wasn’t my favorite place to play. It didn’t suit me very well,” he said.