DJ knows from experience: Anything can happen in a major

By Randall MellJune 13, 2014, 7:01 pm

PINEHURST, N.C. – When Dustin Johnson says “anything can happen” on a weekend in a major, he isn’t being hackneyed.

The guy could write a doctoral thesis on the topic.

Well, maybe not, but he could certainly be the subject of any probing look at wild finishes in majors.

With a 1-under-par 69 Friday at the U.S. Open, Johnson was tied for second when he signed his scorecard at Pinehurst No. 2, but it’s debatable whether you can classify him as being in contention. That’s because he was a whopping eight shots behind Martin Kaymer halfway through the championship.

Johnson, however, knows better.

He isn’t spouting wishful thinking when he says anything can happen when pressure escalates on leaders and contenders, making synapses short-circuit, nerves misfire and hearts palpitate. He knows.

If you’ve forgotten, here’s a little of Johnson’s history with chances to win his first major:

2010 U.S. Open – Three shots ahead going into the final round at Pebble Beach, Johnson needed only two holes to squander his lead. In an awkward spot in a bunker at No. 2, he unwisely tried to swat his ball out left-handed. He made triple-bogey-7 and went on to shoot 82 as Graeme McDowell won. Johnson’s 82 was the highest score posted by the 54-hole leader of a U.S. Open in 99 years.

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2010 PGA Championship – One shot ahead stepping to the tee at the 72nd hole at Whistling Straits, Johnson pushed his drive way right, into the crowd and a worn patch of earth. He ended up making a bogey, fully expecting to join Kaymer and Bubba Watson for a three-way playoff. Instead, he learned that patch of earth was actually a bunker, and he would have to take a two-shot penalty for grounding his club in a hazard. He made triple bogey and walked away tied for fifth, with Kaymer going on to win.

2011 British Open – Closing in on Darren Clarke on the back nine Sunday at Royal St. Georges, Johnson was in position to reach the 14th hole in two, with a shot to the right the only play to be avoided at the par 5. He made the big mistake, sailing a 2-iron out of bounds.

So as well as Kaymer is playing, Johnson knows the trouble that lies in wait on a weekend for the leaders of a major, especially at Pinehurst No. 2.

Back at the 2005 U.S. Open here, Retief Goosen took a three-shot lead on Jason Gore and Olin Browne into the final round. None of them came close to winning the championship. Goosen collapsed with an 81, Gore with an 84 and Browne with an 80.

“As you all know, anything can happen in a U.S. Open,” Johnson told the assembled media after signing for a second consecutive 69 at Pinehurst No. 2. “This golf course is tough. If you get just a little bit off with your driver and your irons, you're going to have a long day. I've got a good game plan; I'm going to stick to it. If I keep hitting it like I am, then I'm going to keep shooting good scores.”

Johnson is playing Pinehurst No. 2 aggressively, mashing his driver with impunity around this classic Donald Ross course. He hit 10 drivers Friday, putting himself in favorable positions all morning. A sluggish putter kept him from closing the gap more on Kaymer.

“I played solid,” Johnson said. “I had a lot of good chances to make birdies and was just a little off with the putter.”

Johnson missed a 3-footer for par at the sixth hole. He was frustrated with his stroke there.

“Nothing's going wrong,” Johnson said. “My stroke feels really good. I just hit a bad putt. You can't hit them all good.”

Johnson is a giant talent. He has eight PGA Tour titles, with victories in each of his first six seasons on Tour. The only other player to do that straight out of college was Tiger Woods.

With all that talent, and all the promise he has shown, Johnson has to be considered among the best players without a major championship title. He’s coming to a crossroads that way, with his 30th birthday just nine days away.

Johnson was asked how eager he is to put himself in position on yet another Sunday with a chance to win that first major.

“I want to be there every week,” Johnson said. “It's always a good feeling. You know you're playing well, you got a lot of confidence, especially when you're right up there by the lead. After two days this week, I'm really comfortable with where I'm at, and just need to keep doing what I'm doing.”

When it comes to Sundays in majors, he’ll be looking to change the way they end in a big way.

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McIlroy 'happy to be back', can 'empathize' with Tiger

By Associated PressJanuary 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – After a long layoff from golf, Rory McIlroy has some newfound sympathy for Tiger Woods.

The 28-year-old Northern Irishman is making a comeback at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after ending his season early last year. He has not played a round since the final day of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Oct. 8.

McIlroy, a four-time major champion who has slipped to No. 11 in the world rankings, last won the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour in September 2016. He injured a rib in his first outing of 2017 – at the South African Open – and felt its after-effects throughout the year.

McIlroy, who has seven top-five finishes in his last eight starts in Abu Dhabi, said Tuesday he felt mentally low because of his physical issues.

''Honestly, I was excited to be done. I could have shut it down after the PGA Championship very easily and taken the rest of the year off, but I didn't. I played six events after that, played OK and had a chance to win one of them,'' McIlroy said. ''But I was just excited to take that time off and get myself just sort of a re-set.''

Last week, McIlroy also revealed that he has a minor, non-threatening heart condition that needs regular check-ups.

''After that 3-plus months of a re-set, I'm very happy to be back. I felt like I needed it physically and mentally. I just felt like it was a little bit of a sabbatical. I've been out here for 10 years, and I want to get ready for the next 10.''

McIlroy compared his situation to what Woods has been going through.

''I've only been through, maybe, not even 5 percent of what he's had to go through. And you can tell from where he was to where he is now mentally, because of physically where he is ... he's a totally different person,'' McIlroy said. ''Of course, I empathize with him, and I know he was in a dark place there for a while. It's just so great to see him out of that and back and excited to be playing golf again.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship will be the first of back-to-back events for McIlroy, who is also playing next week in Dubai.

''I think the next two weeks will be a big learning curve, just to see where I'm at,'' McIlroy said. ''I'm obviously coming into the events trying to play as well as I can and trying to compete and trying to win, but I think there will definitely be things I'll have to work on going into that stretch in the States.''

The tournament, which starts Thursday, has attracted some big names, including top-ranked Dustin Johnson, No. 6 Justin Rose, No. 9 Henrik Stenson, No. 14 Paul Casey and No. 15 Matt Kuchar. No. 18 Tommy Fleetwood is the defending champion.

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Pre-tourney caution be damned: Stenson rides camel

By Grill Room TeamJanuary 16, 2018, 3:29 pm

If you were under the impression Henrik Stenson's days of engaging in pre-tournament hijinks at HSBC-sponsored events were over, then you don't know the Swedish Superman.

Ahead of this week's HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, the 2016 champion golfer of the year decided to have some fun riding (and pretend-spanking) a camel:

If you can't imagine any reason Stenson wouldn't get on a camel, we will point you to the WGC-HSBC Champions back in October, when Stenson, Dustin Johnson, Haotong Li and Hideki Matsuyama took place in this hire-wire act:

Two weeks later, Stenson revealed a rib injury, and a report from the U.K.'s Telegraph stated "that not only was the Shanghai caper to blame, but that Stenson is annoyed about being persuaded to do it in the first place."

Stenson brushed back at that report in this Instagram post, saying that his "comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal."

I’m disappointed to have to pre-emptively withdraw from the Nedbank Golf Challenge Hosted by Gary Player, I was looking forward to this important year-end event on the European Tour. At this point I am back home in Orlando waiting to do a scan on my ribs and get the necessary rest. I am still hoping for a quick recovery and have not ruled out playing in Dubai next week at this point. My comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal. The plan as of now will be to participate in the DP World Championship if my body is back to 100%. H

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And it would appear he genuinely meant those comments, at least enough to get on a camel.

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Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:25 pm

Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.

The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.

Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.  

“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”

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Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.

Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.