PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Dustin Johnson shares the lead going into Sunday at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, where he has already won twice.
That’s the reaction Johnson’s name atop a leaderboard brought to the game when he was mounting that terrific run a year ago, back before he slipped on some stairs and hurt his back at a rented home before the Masters.
That hard tumble might have been all that stopped Johnson from dominating the entire year, because that’s where he looked as if he was heading. He was becoming such a complete player. He was becoming so formidably well-rounded, with his improved wedge game complementing the best driving skills in the game.
Is that where Johnson is heading again?
If nobody steps up and stops him Sunday at Pebble Beach, that will be the question leading into the Genesis Open at Riviera next week.
Because that’s where Johnson caught fire last year.
He won at Riviera, then won his next start at the WGC-Mexico Championship and then his very next start at the WGC-Dell Match Play.
Johnson went to Augusta National as the overwhelming favorite to win the year’s first major.
If Johnson keeps a firm grip on all the stairwell railings he encounters this year, is that where we are returning in this year’s run up to the Masters?
Johnson won the PGA Tour’s first event this year, taking the Sentry Tournament of Champions last month in an eight-shot rout. Now he’s looking to win back-to-back PGA Tour starts.
“I’ve been working hard on the game,” Johnson said. “I definitely have a lot of confidence, and I know if I go out and play really well tomorrow, I’m going to have a really good chance to win.”
With a 2-under-par 70 at Pebble Beach Golf Links, Johnson moved to 14 under overall, tied with Ted Potter Jr. (62).
Jason Day, the former world No. 1, put up a 69 at Pebble Beach and sits just two shots back. He’s the most proven player in position to take overtake Johnson. Day won the Farmers Insurance Open just two weeks ago.
“If it’s DJ (leading), I’ve got to play well,” Day said after his round. “Whoever is up there is playing tremendous golf, so I’ve got to try and chase him down.”
Potter won The Greenbrier Classic for his first PGA Tour title six years ago, but he hasn’t been the same since returning from a broken ankle two years ago.
Troy Merritt (69) is two shots back.
Jon Rahm (70), Steve Stricker (70) and Patrick Rodgers (69) are all three back.
Rahm won the Career Builders three weeks ago.
Phil Mickelson (72) is tied for ninth, five shots back.
While Johnson might have inspired that “Uh-oh” reaction last spring, he says he isn’t quite to that same level yet. In fact, he looked vulnerable on the back nine Saturday. He made three bogeys coming home before making birdie at the last.
Johnson wasn’t quite as formidable upon his return from that back injury last year. He failed to protect a 54-hole lead at the HSBC Champions last fall. He has closed out only three of the last seven times he has held or shared 54-hole leads over the last three-plus years.
“I’m going to be in good position going into tomorrow, but I’m still going to have to go out and play really well if I want a chance to win,” Johnson said.
Johnson was asked Friday if he felt close to the top form he showed early last year.
“The game's really close,” Johnson said. “I don't know if it's quite as good as it was during that stretch. That was probably some of the best golf I've played in my career, but parts of the game are just as good.
“I would say that I'm driving it well, but I'm probably not quite as good as I was when on those three wins, but everything else feels like it's really good.”