PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Dustin Johnson returns to Pebble Beach with conflicting emotions.
Rare is a defending champion who is looking for redemption.
Johnson has a chance to make history as the first player to win three successive years at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am since this iconic event began in 1937.
Forgotten is how he built a four-shot lead in 2009 and was declared the winner when rain cut the tournament short to 54 holes. Or how he smashed one last drive to set up an easy birdie from the bunker on the final hole last year for a one-shot victory.
No, the lasting image of Johnson at Pebble Beach comes from the U.S. Open last summer.
He had a three-shot lead going into the final round when he took two chips from the rough – one of them left-handed – and took a triple bogey on the second hole. Then came an aggressive play with the driver on No. 3 that he hooked into the bushes for a lost ball. His tee shot on the fourth went into the ocean.
It added to a colossal collapse in his first chance to win a major. Johnson closed with an 82, the highest final round by a 54-hole leader at the U.S. Open in nearly 100 years.
He had yet to get out to Pebble Beach by Wednesday, and planned to play only a couple of holes before sneaking over to Cypress Point. Johnson has moved into the celebrity rotation, meaning he will play Monterey Peninsula on Thursday and Spyglass Hill on Friday before he gets his first crack at Pebble Beach.
Which memories will come back?
“Neither,” Johnson said. “I’m just coming out to play the golf course. It’s still good, even though the last time I played it I struggled a little bit. But I’m still excited to get back out there and play. I’m always going to love this golf course, no matter what. I’m just ready to get back out and play.”
But then he paused, and offered a slight smile.
“Get a little redemption for the last round of the Open,” he said.
Johnson does not lose confidence easily. Despite a round that would haunt some players, he was right back in the mix two months later at the PGA Championship, poised to win another major until he failed to realize he was in a bunker on a Whistling Straits course that has too many bunkers to count. Instead of getting into a playoff, he wound two shots behind. Unfazed, Johnson won the BMW Championship a month later to mark himself as a rising star.
That’s not to say he hasn’t learned from his mistakes, especially at Pebble Beach.
Johnson attributes his U.S. Open blunders to playing and thinking too quickly. He is among the fastest players in the game, and Johnson spent the latter part of last year trying to slow down.
“In the first couple of rounds, I might get a little quick,” he said. “I probably need to do it more in the first, second and third rounds than I do in the final round. The final round is when you’re thinking and you’re more conscious of what’s going on. That’s when it’s most important, when you’re under the gun and when you’ve got a shot to win.
“Slow for me is still pretty fast,” he said. “I’ve got to feel like I’m moving pretty slow, which probably isn’t slow.”
The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am gets under way Thursday with the usual suspects – Johnson going for a third straight win, Phil Mickelson trying to find momentum sometime before the Masters, Davis Love III playing for the 25th consecutive year, and Padraig Harrington making his PGA Tour debut.
Harrington was on his way out to Pebble Beach for a practice round when he bumped into Johnson. He stopped to shake hands and pass along a playful message.
“I’m trying to take the trophy off your hands this week,” Harrington said.
“Good luck,” Johnson said with a delivery that Clint Eastwood could appreciate.
Johnson might not be on top of his game as he was a year ago, when he was coming off a runner-up finish at Riviera. His season began with a couple of top 10s, including an outside chance to win at Torrey Pines.
He made more news for his relationship with LPGA player Natalie Gulbis that surfaced at Kapalua, whatever that relationship was.
Even so, he gets most of his attention on the course.
“We’ve never had an athlete like that play this tour,” Paul Goydos said. “He’s the best athlete that I can think of who’s playing out here. It’s ridiculous to watch this guy work out. He’s a tremendous talent who can do things that very few people have ever been able to do.”
Johnson nearly had a chance to win as a rookie until he chopped up the 14th hole. He followed that with two victories.
He is not sure why he has such an affinity for Pebble Beach. He just does.
“I’m very comfortable out here,” he said. “I think I’ve got this course figured out pretty well. I tend to play it pretty well. Confidence is huge, especially playing golf. If you’re confident you’re going to play well on the golf course, most of the time you do.”
Johnson with title to defend point to prove at Pebble
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Dustin Johnson returns to Pebble Beach with conflicting emotions.
McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School
One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.
McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.
It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.
McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).
Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).
Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.
Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award
The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.
The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.
Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.
The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.
A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.
Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4
Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.
Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.
South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.
Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.
The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.
Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout
It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.
Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.
Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.
"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."
Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.
Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.