KAPALUA, Hawaii – On Wednesday, Dustin Johnson was asked if there was another course on the PGA Tour he enjoyed as much as Kapalua, where he won in 2013 and hasn’t finished outside the top 10 in his last five starts.
“Yeah, all of them,” he smiled.
It was a fair point for a player with Johnson’s unique skill set, but there’s still no ignoring the world No. 1’s success on the Plantation Course, where he’s never carded an over-par round.
On Friday, it was more of the same, with Johnson rebounding from a poor start - he was 2 over through his first four holes - to temporarily grab a share of the lead at 9 under with a 5-under 68.
“I was a little frustrated, but I got going on six; hit a great drive down there and a great chip up there a couple feet from the hole and then kind of just kept going,” Johnson said. “I knew I was playing good. The biggest thing was just to be patient, because I had plenty of birdie opportunities.”
Johnson will begin Saturday’s round one stroke off the lead held by Brian Harman and Marc Leishman in his quest to become just the third top-ranked player to win the annual Tour kickoff in Maui.
Although much is made of Johnson’s advantage off the tee, and he’s making the most of his power with a 324-yard average that’s second in the field, it’s his knowledge of the Plantation Course that also factors into his success at Kapalua. This is Johnson’s eighth start at the Tournament of Champions. No other player in the field this week has more than three.
“I think [experience] is important, definitely. There's some putts out there that ... look like they do something other than what they actually do,” Leishman said. “There's little things like that, like you have to do that stuff to learn. If you've been here seven times, you've probably gotten that on a lot of holes.”
For Johnson, however, it’s his ball-striking that has given him the biggest advantage, particularly when the winds blow like they have this week.
“You hit solid shots, you can control it, and you can hit some good ones. It's the mishits when the wind's blowing this hard that the wind can really take it way off-line,” he said. “It's a lot of feel around here. You hardly ever hit full shots, I feel like. So I kind of like it.”
Following an eventful 2017 during which Johnson won three consecutive events and arrived at the Masters as the consensus favorite only to be slowed by a back injury, the 16-time Tour winner said he’s close to the form that made him virtually unbeatable throughout much of last spring.
“I'm seeing signs of I'm hitting the shots, they've got the right patterns, and I'm hitting the shots that I'm seeing,” he said. “It's just more my cut is starting to come back, where I'm hitting it with irons and with the driver.”