ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (AP) — Dustin Johnson isn’t much for looking back. He doesn’t spend a lot of time wondering what might have been just a few weeks ago at the U.S. Open.
But if he needed a reminder of how close he came to winning his first major title at Chambers Bay, he won’t have to look far Thursday at the British Open.
There on the first tee with him at St. Andrews will be Jordan Spieth, who became the U.S. Open champion when Johnson 3-putted the final green from 12 feet.
“I like playing with Jordan,” Johnson said. “No pressure, though.”
Not in the opening round, for sure, when the pressure will be on Spieth to get off to a good start in search of his third major championship of the year.
And maybe not even on Sunday, when Johnson could be one of the contenders to upend Spieth and his chase for the third leg of the Grand Slam.
“I’m playing in the next two, so we’ll have to see,” Johnson said.
If recent history is any indication, Johnson figures to be in the mix at this Open, just as he was at St. Andrews. Johnson can only hope the outcome won’t be as cruel as it was at Chambers Bay, where he missed a 12-footer to win, then missed a 4-footer coming back to miss a Monday playoff.
Instead of being known as a champion who hit driver and 5-iron on the par-5 to get into position for a winning eagle on that final hole, Johnson must deal with a growing reputation of not being able to close the big ones.
“I hit two great shots, and unfortunately my ball — I don’t know how it stayed where it did, above the hole up there, but unfortunately it stayed there and it was just a tough putt,” he said. “I was trying to make it, but I wanted it to barely go in, and it still went 4 feet by. Hit a good putt on the way back, and it just bounced and missed left.”
Disappointment in the final round is not new to Johnson. He lost a PGA Championship in 2010 at Whistling Straits by grounding his club in an 18th-hole hazard he wasn’t aware existed. He had the lead in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach the same year before collapsing.
He insists he uses such setbacks as a learning experience, much as he did when taking a six-month absence from the PGA Tour that has never been fully explained amid reports that it was for drug use.
Along with a new baby with fiancee Paulina Gretzky, Johnson believes he is also finally in command of his game.
“I think it’s very good, very positive,” Johnson said of contending in recent majors. “It gives me the confidence to know I have what it takes to win. I think I showed that at the U.S. Open. Coming down the back nine, I was hitting the shots that I wanted to hit. Unfortunately the ball wasn’t bouncing in the hole. I’ve got what it takes, so I’m excited to get this week started.”
One of the longest hitters in the game, Johnson is among a handful of the favorites at the Open in his first tournament since losing to Spieth at Chambers Bay. He may be playing with Masters and U.S. Open champion Spieth in the first two rounds, but believes his performance will stand on its own on a golf course he both loves and knows well.
He also believes his ordeals have made him stronger, and he gets some advice from future father-in-law Wayne Gretzky, the hockey great who knows well what it’s like to both win and lose.
“We do spend a lot of time together, just haven’t really got in depth about anything like that,” Johnson said. “I learn more from Wayne just by watching him and seeing what he does and asking him questions about when he was playing and things like that.”
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