PALM HARBOR — Dustin Johnson is here.
No, he didn’t have Tiger galleries following him all afternoon. No, he didn’t light up his postround interview, as if he ever does. But the best golfer on this planet (I can’t speak for the Mars match play) is in our midst, and it’s a big deal.
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson shot 4 under Saturday and is 8 under after three rounds of the Valspar Championship. Johnson is in the final pairing today with defending champion Paul Casey, who is one up. The Masters is in three weeks. No. 1 feels his game is in fighting trim for Augusta.
“I feel like I’m comfortable with every club in my bag,” he said. “It’s in pretty good form right now. It could get better, but it’s in good form.”
The laconic Johnson is golf’s answer to the metronome, even with his startlingly checkered past and the fact that his longtime fiance and mother of his two children is model/actress Pauline Gretzky, daughter of hockey great Wayne. You won’t get Tiger Woods fist pumps from this No. 1. You won’t get Rory McIlroy or Jordan Spieth. You won’t get much at all.
I followed Johnson for a few holes Saturday, befitting him being only the fourth player to play Valspar while ranked No. 1, the others being Vijay Singh in 2004, Martin Kaymer in 2011 and Jordan Spieth in 2016. Fans were nice to Johnson, but the truth is he’s not a grabber. He doesn’t smile much. He is deadly calm, deadly consistent. Johnson is ridiculously long off the tee, 400 yards or more, and pathetically dry off the quote sheet. Peers know “DJ” and his Rushmore game face.
“He’s so calm,” said Louis Oosthuizen, who was four off the lead after the third round. “Since the day I’ve been on tour, he’s looked exactly the same, whether he has a four-shot lead or is six behind. He never gets emotional. I’m sure he does inside, but he handles himself so well out there.”
There is a famous story from the 2015 U.S. Open in which Johnson famously blew his first major win with a three-putt on the 72nd hole. After, he saw the looks of horror on family and friendly faces and asked, “What’s wrong with everybody?”
He simply moved on. He won the Open, his first and only major, the following year. So, naturally everyone wants to know why he hasn’t won more than one major.
Never mind that Johnson, 34, is one of only three men to have won at least one tournament each of his first 11 seasons on tour (the others: Woods and Jack Nicklaus). Never mind that he has 20 PGA victories and has earned nearly $60 million. Sports is about moving the needle. Greatness doesn’t always do that. No. 1 doesn’t mind. He has shot 14 consecutive rounds in the 60s.
“I like being No. 1,” Johnson said. “It means I’m playing really good golf. Winning takes care of that, too. Every week I try to put myself in position to win, which I’ve done this week.”
Jim Furyk, also four shots off the lead, was captain of the 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup team that included Johnson.
“I’m not in the needle-moving business,” Furyk said. “That’s for you guys. I just know he’s fun to watch. I like his attitude. It doesn’t seem like much bothers him. He shrugs his shoulders and moves on. He’s super talented. There’s not much he can’t do with a golf ball as far as cutting and drawing it. He hits it high, he hits it far. He has a good edge game, he has a good short game. When he gets it going with the putter, he’s hard to beat.”
Johnson might seem boring, but his past says different. As a youth, he was arrested and accused of being part of a burglary. In 2009 he was arrested and charged with DUI. As a pro he reportedly was suspended for substance abuse. It’s not Tiger’s platinum membership at Perkins, but it’s close. Johnson is a guy who has come back to be on top of the world.
It’s good to have No. 1 at Valspar, in the hunt. It’s what Dustin Johnson does. He’ll win more majors in his career. True, Woods had won 14 by the time he was 34. On the other hand, Phil Mickelson didn’t win his first major until he was nearly 34. Sergio Garcia didn’t win his first until he was 37. Johnson is a future Hall of Famer. And he has a plan for today.
“Same thing I do every day,” he said. “I ain’t going to do anything different.”
“You’d have to ask DJ, but he’d say No. 1 is a cool deal, but it’s not his driving force,” Furyk said. “But I don’t want to put words in his mouth.”
Please, put words in his mouth. Someone, anyone.
Dustin Johnson will handle the golf.
Contact Martin Fennelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.