VERONA, N.Y. – Dustin Johnson loves the forecast for the Turning Stone Resort Championship: Rain on three of the next four days.
“Seeing how the two coldest and the two wettest tournaments I’ve played so far – I’ve won both of them – I don’t mind it at all,” he said.
That initial PGA Tour triumph came a year ago on Turning Stone’s 7,482-yard Atunyote Golf Club course. Johnson endured soggy conditions and a rain delay that even included a blast of hail that blanketed at least one green.
Four months later, he won his second event at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, a tournament shortened to 54 holes when the final round was canceled due to strong winds and heavy rain. That left Johnson the winner by four strokes over Mike Weir.
The victories injected confidence into Johnson’s game, and this year has been a breakthrough as he prepares to start defense of his Turning Stone title on Thursday. Johnson ranks third on the PGA Tour in driving distance (308.4), third in birdie average (4.08), and nearly was picked by U.S. captain Fred Couples for the Presidents Cup.
“I’m a lot more comfortable out here,” Johnson said. “Last year was my first year and I didn’t quite understand. I’ve scheduled a lot better this year. I’m a little more organized, and as far as golf goes I’ve been better at preparing for each tournament. The more you’re out here and the more experience you have out here, the better you get as far as preparing.”
Turning Stone is the first tournament of the Fall Series, which is comprised of five events. Players are vying to finish the year in the top 125 on the money list to retain full exemption for 2010.
With a $6 million purse and $1.08 million of it going to the champion, it’s an attractive stop, and the third rendition of the event has attracted its strongest field. The original field had 17 of the top 50 money leaders on the PGA Tour heading to the resort, but three – Jerry Kelly, Steve Marino, and John Mallinger – have since withdrawn.
Johnson, 15th in earnings, is one of three players in the field who advanced through all four of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs, along with John Senden and rookie Marc Leishman.
Others prominent players in the field include: Ben Curtis, Rocco Mediate, David Duval, Rich Beem, Mark Calcavecchia, Steve Elkington, Adam Scott, Davis Love III, Rocco Mediate, Rory Sabbatini, Robert Allenby, Stuart Appleby, Aaron Baddeley and 2010 Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin. Turning Stone’s inaugural champ, Steve Flesch, also returns, as does John Rollins, who won at Atunyote when it hosted the final B.C. Open in 2006.
Still, Johnson, an All-American at Coastal Carolina and three-time Big South Conference Player of the Year in college, likes his chances.
A year ago, he birdied the final two holes, saving his best and longest drive for last. He boomed a 357-yard shot off the tee at the 616-yard, par-5 18th hole, then hit his second shot 37 feet past the green and into the rough before recovering with a clutch chip and nerve-racking 8-foot putt to beat Allenby by one stroke.
“I’m hitting the ball well, but it’s hard to hit it close from the rough,” Johnson said. “Whenever I drive it straight, I’m going to play well, and I’ve been driving it in the fairway the last few weeks.”