CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Dustin Johnson has one last chance at a major championship to prove he didn’t leave his game at the bottom of that staircase.
The PGA Championship this week marks the final shot for the world’s top-ranked player to contend for a major during an otherwise lost year that went haywire after a tumble down the stairs forced him out of the Masters.
That fall not only wrenched his back, it wrecked his season.
“Obviously, it’s really frustrating. But things happen,” Johnson said Tuesday. “You’ve just got to deal with them, and you know, I feel like the golf game’s in really good shape right now. ... Had a good practice session yesterday. Played nine holes. Feel like I’m driving it really well again.”
It seemed unthinkable that Johnson would come to the year’s final major without even challenging for one. He won three straight tournaments before that fateful trip to Augusta, Georgia, where he slipped down the stairs at his rental home and hurt his back, an injury that kept him out of the season’s first major.
Johnson missed the cut at the U.S. Open, then fell behind early at the British Open and finished in a tie for 54th place — 16 strokes behind winner Jordan Speith.
Johnson admitted that he lost “a little feel, a little touch” in his short game during his layoff, and that when he rebuilt his repertoire, he “probably did it in the wrong order.
“If I would have just been working on (the short game), then my long game wouldn’t have ... needed to be as good, because then I could get up and down,” he said. “When you get an injury, it’s tough to say what to do first or how to work back into it.
“The problem was, I wasn’t driving it very well, so I just didn’t get many opportunities to hit wedge from the fairway,” he added. “But I feel like the driver is going very well now. I feel like I’ve got a lot of control over it. I feel like I’m hitting good shots with it. They are going where I’m looking. I think this is going to be a very good week.”
He’s seeing some concrete evidence of improvement: He’s held the world No. 1 ranking for 25 straight weeks. The week after the British Open, he finished in a tie for eighth at the RBC Canadian Open, and he followed that with a tie for 17th at the Bridgestone Invitational.
On a scale of one to 10, Johnson says his game rated as a three when he first returned from the injury but says it’s “about an 8½ right now.”
“I felt like I got some things worked out in the swing that were just holding me back a little bit,” Johnson said. “Right now, I feel it’s close to when I was playing really well before Augusta than I have, and you know, since then. The golf swing’s there. I feel good. My body feels great.”
Maybe a visit to a course the South Carolina native considers “kind of home” will help. Johnson grew up about an hour from Charlotte in Columbia, South Carolina; played college golf at Coastal Carolina and slyly said he’s received “a few” ticket requests.
Then again, he’s missed the cut in two of his previous three tournaments at Quail Hollow.