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With injury behind him, DJ eyeing to build off strong start in new year

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PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Dustin Johnson is leaving little doubt he’s focused on reasserting himself as a factor on the game’s biggest stages after coming back from knee surgery late last year.

He let media know just how much he’s avoiding cluttering his mind with distractions when he was asked Wednesday for his reaction to the release of the USGA and R&A’s Distance Insights Project.

He was brutally and comically honest.

“I saw the e-mail, and then I looked at how long it was, and I did not read it,” he said. “It was like 18 pages or something, and I said, 'Yeah.’ I didn't even try to read it.”

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Johnson’s painful finish to 2019 wasn’t so funny. He missed the final three months while recovering from arthroscopic surgery to repair cartilage damage in his left knee. After a second-place finish at the PGA Championship in May, he didn’t have another top-10 finish the rest of the year.

“I blame it on my knee hurting,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the knee no longer hurts, but he can feel the repair when his left leg braces hard, as it does when he’s hitting a shot off an uphill lie. He said even though there’s no pain, his brain tells him to ease off.

“It’s just with awkward stances,” he said.

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Johnson is working through that nicely, with a T-7 finish in his 2020 debut at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and his second-place finish at the Saudi International last week.

With Wayne Gretzky back as his playing partner this week, Johnson is eager to add to his success at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He won in 2009 and ‘10. In 12 starts in the event, he has eight top-10 finishes, with five finishes of third or better. 

“It's one of my favorite events we play all year,” Johnson said. “I like all the golf courses. This year, they're probably in the best shape I've ever seen them. It looks like we're going to have a little bit better weather than last year, so that's a plus.

“I enjoy playing here, got a good partner, so we have a good time.”

Despite that knee injury and swoon in the second half last year, Johnson is still No. 5 in the world. He’ll be looking to make a move back toward the No. 1 ranking. In five different stays, he has held the top spot for 91 total weeks.