Two years ago, Dustin Johnson was the heavy favorite to win the 2017 Masters but withdrew moments before his first-round tee time with a back injury suffered on the eve of the tournament when he fell down stairs in his rental home near Augusta National Golf Club.
Last Sunday, another Johnson had a bad fall.
Johnson’s brother and caddie, Austin, slipped on stairs in a rental home near TPC Sawgrass after The Players Championship as the two packed to head west for this week’s Valspar Championship and broke a bone in his left hand.
But there’s no withdrawal coming as Austin, sporting a black cast and using a sling, carried the bag during Wednesday’s pro-am on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Florida.
“He had a bit of a run-in with a pair of stairs, kind of like I did,” Johnson said. “Those stairs, man. They’ll get you.”
Little else has gotten to Johnson & Johnson this year.
Johnson, the world No. 1, has been high-stepping toward the Masters with wins in the Saudi International and the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship, where he beat Players champion Rory McIlroy by five shots and all others by at least 10.
In five other starts this year, Johnson has three top-10 finishes, including a tie for fifth despite struggling on the greens in The Players.
“The game’s in pretty good form,” Johnson said.
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He is back near the Sunshine State’s Suncoast for the first time since 2010, when he missed the cut in the Valspar Championship. This year’s tournament fits his schedule and satisfies the PGA Tour’s requirement that a player who makes 25 or fewer starts must add an event he hasn’t played the past four seasons.
Johnson joked that he has a hard time remembering last week, let alone nine years ago, but his memory was sharp about the exacting Copperhead Course, which has teeth around every dogleg.
“I played here a couple times and it’s a really good track,” Johnson said. “It’s a golf course where I feel like it fits my game a little bit better now than it did back then. So I’m looking forward to playing this week.”
Johnson will play in next week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, then take a week off before the Masters. Johnson won the Match Play in Texas in 2017, which came two weeks ahead of his unfortunate fall before the Masters.
Considering his current form and two tough tests ahead against strong fields on difficult courses, he feels he’s right on track heading to Magnolia Lane.
“There’s a few things I have to tidy up. There’s always room for improvement throughout the whole bag,” Johnson said. “I feel like the swing’s starting to feel a lot better. The shot patterns are starting to get more consistent.”
So much so it’s reminding him of how he felt before he fell down those stairs in 2017. He was playing the best golf of his career — he had won the Genesis Open, WGC-Mexico Championship and Match Play — in his three previous starts.
“So now it’s the closest I’ve been to that,” Johnson said. “I mean, back then that was probably the best form I’ve ever been in, and getting injured it’s taken a while to get back to that form. It’s definitely the closest I’ve felt to that stage of my career.”