Dustin Johnson missed the cut in each of his two previous starts at Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course, but this year’s Valspar Championship represents his first appearance in Tampa Bay since 2010.
A lot has changed since then.
Now ranked No. 1 in the world, Johnson has amassed 17 victories since he last missed the cut at what was then called the Transitions Championship. And he’s found the course more to his liking this week, shooting 2-under 69 in Rounds 1 and 2, moving to T-6 overall and just two shots behind co-leaders Paul Casey and Austin Cook.
The 34-year-old Johnson just picked up career win No. 20 at the WGC-Mexico Championship and finished T-5 at last week’s Players Championship.
Johnson’s play has been remarkably consistent of late, and he’s now broken 70 in 13 consecutive rounds dating back to an opening-round 73 at the Genesis Open in February.b
With another round in the 60s on Saturday, Johnson would tie Tiger Woods’ career-best streak of 14 rounds. Bob Estes holds the PGA Tour record with 17 consecutive rounds in the 60s, a mark that has stood since 2001.
Johnson will also be chasing Casey, the defending champ, after a 5-under 66 Friday afternoon. He and Cook are 6 under overall and one shot clear of Luke Donald, Sungjae Im and Scott Stallings at T-3.
While Johnson has been going low in the build-up to the Masters, the defending champ at Augusta National is stuck in a rut. Patrick Reed finished runner-up at last year’s Valspar Championship, but he’s heading home early and was near dead-last after shooting 77-75 at the Copperhead Course. Reed was in contention after three rounds at the Players Championship before a 6-over 78 in the final round at TPC Sawgrass.
That puts Reed at 16-over-par for his last three rounds and in desperate need of a spark with his green jacket defense less than one month away.
As for Johnson, he’s in great position for a fourth consecutive top-10 finish and perhaps more with another solid two days in Tampa.
Note: Amateur Akshay Bhatia shot a 74-72 to miss the cut in his PGA Tour debut.