Now, when he tries to get back on his board, he pays the price.
'The problem is when you fall now, you fall like a log,' the 28-year-old Swede said Thursday after an opening-round 4-under-par 68 left him tied for second at the Wachovia Championship. 'Before, it was more like a cat. It really hurts when you fall now, and it's the same with everything. When you fall, you fall hard.'
After finishing 148th on the PGA Tour money list last season, Johnson has only a partial exemption in 2005, and this is his fourth start. He tied for ninth last week in New Orleans - his first tournament since February - and continued the solid play at Quail Hollow.
He had the lead to himself at 6 under heading to the 17th tee, but hit his 5-iron long into the rough on difficult par-3. An indifferent chip left Johnson about 25 feet from the hole, and he missed the putt to make a bogey. Another one at the 18th left him in a group of four players one shot behind Sergio Garcia.
'I had a really nice day going,' he said. 'Of course, I'm really happy with 4 under coming in, as well. You know, it's too bad with the finish. The last three holes are really tough holes.'
As for the reason he took up golf in the first place, Johnson took a bet when he was 15 from his girlfriend's family, who jokingly told him he couldn't get the 'Green Card' required to play golf in Sweden. So he practiced for 10 straight days, 10 hours a day, and passed the test.
Before long, Johnson couldn't get enough of the game.
'I got hooked like everybody else,' he said.
He won several national junior tournaments in Sweden, then came to the United States to enjoy better playing conditions - he described his native land as a 'small country with very bad weather.' Now, he simply has to find his thrills on the golf course, something he would not have believed possible before he began playing.
'I did every other sport, and I really thought golf was kind of weird,' Johnson said. 'But if you pull off a really good shot or if you hole something, whatever, just the adrenaline flow is really probably what keeps me going. That's what I'm trying to get back to a little bit more, to get the adrenaline flowing.'
Pinehurst No. 2 is only a couple of hours down the road from the Wachovia Championship, and Nick Price won't have to worry about getting to the U.S. Open.
The USGA gave him a special exemption last week.
'That was sweet,' Price said Thursday after opening with a 73. 'It's the first invitation I ever got to a major championship. It was a big thing for me when (USGA vice president) Walter Drive phoned me. I said, 'Walter, that's one of the nicest phone calls I ever got.' I really needed it this year, too.'
Price thinks he's capable of becoming the first player since Hale Irwin in 1990 to win the U.S. Open after getting a special exemption.
'My game is not quite right, but it's close,' he said. 'If I can get rid of the junk in my game, just clean it out, I can have a chance, especially on an Open championship course. If it plays hard and fast, it will be awesome.'
Price tied for 23rd at Pinehurst No. 2 in 1999.
Jim Furyk came to the 18th hole at the top of the leaderboard and in total control of his game. A few wayward shots changed all that.
After playing without a bogey through the first 17 holes, the 2003 U.S Open champ chopped up his final hole and made a double-bogey 6, leaving him with a 3-under 69.
'Had I doubled 1 and played the rest of the way in, I'd probably be smiling and happy,' Furyk said. 'But finishing that way is never great.'
His trouble started when his drive unexpectedly bounced in the rough, and a weak approach shot found a bunker. An awful explosion left him with a 40-footer for par, and he misread the green from there.
'I hit a bad second shot, the bunker shot was terrible, and I got fooled on the putt,' Furyk said. 'I end up making a couple of mistakes on one hole after playing mistake-free.'
BEN ON THE MEND
Ben Curtis couldn't see his eagle on the 12th hole, and he was lucky to hear about it with only a dozen or so people around the green. He hit an easy 5-iron from 172 yards, the ball landing on the ridge and breaking some 15 feet before dropping into the center of the cup.
'I hit it to 3 feet on the last hole and no one clapped,' Curtis said. 'Tough crowd.'
It's been a tough start for the 2003 British Open champion, although he is seeing some progress. Curtis shot 71, the first time he has started with a round under par since his first start of the year at the Buick Invitational. He shot 75 the next day and missed the cut.
Curtis, who has made only one cut this year, began seeing Hank Haney three weeks ago. He is working on starting his swing more outside, and he already is seeing some results.
'I've always been about keeping the swing on plane,' Curtis said. 'I'm getting some of my power back now.'
Tim Petrovic, who got his first career victory in a playoff last week in New Orleans, had a 77 in the first round, matching the score of James Driscoll, the man he beat. ... An odd scene caused a brief backup on the 16th hole early in the first round. Glen Day pulled his drive behind a couple of portable restrooms and needed a ruling, so his playing partners - Neal Lancaster and Michael Allen - finished out the hole by themselves. Meanwhile, all three members of the next group hit their tee shots, unaware of Day's troubles. He eventually completed the hole solo, making a bogey 5. ... Jay Haas had the best day among his family, finishing with a 73 to beat son Bill by one shot. Jerry Haas, Jay's brother and the golf coach at Wake Forest, shot an 80.
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