Johnson returns to China after missing title defense


He may not feel like it, but Dustin Johnson is a defending champion of sorts this week at the WGC-HSBC Champions.

Sure, Bubba Watson was the last to lift the trophy in Shanghai after his playoff win a year ago, but Johnson set a tournament scoring record en route to a three-shot win in 2013. He hasn't been back since, having missed his title defense during a six-month leave of absence that kept him sidelined throughout the fall. 

Johnson noticed a few changes to the course in the time he has been away, but he remains eager to tee it up on a layout where his average score two years ago was 66. While he and Watson are two of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour, Johnson doesn't feel that Sheshan International is necessarily a bomber's paradise.

WGC-HSBC Champions: Articles, photos and videos

"When I won here, it was one of the best driving weeks I've ever had," Johnson said. "Definitely I think it's a golf course where you need to play from the fairway, because the greens have got a lot of undulation in them. So controlling your ball coming into the greens is very important."

Johnson may still be viewed as one of the Tour's rising stars, but he is now spotting several years to recent winners like Emiliano Grillo and Justin Thomas, both of whom are in the field this week in China. With each of the last four winners age 23 or younger, Johnson embraces the challenge coming from the game's younger generation.

"I know I'm 31, but I still feel like I'm 21. I don't consider myself being much older than those guys," he said. "I think it's awesome. We need good, young players out on Tour. I still consider myself a good, young player. I've been out here for a while, but I like to see the young guys come out and have success and doing well."

As for any notion that he's a defending champ this week in Shanghai, Johnson is giving the spotlight entirely to Watson.

"That's Bubba," he said. "It's just like another year. But hopefully I will have the title again after this year."