Why Dustin Johnson is the man everyone must stop at Royal Troon
By Andrew Pierce
I’ll be the first to admit that only three weeks ago, I didn’t think Dustin Johnson was capable of winning a major.
This wasn’t down to a lack of ability, something which he’s never struggled to show. I honestly believed that although he was possibly the most talented golfer in the world with regards to ball striking and power, his mentality just wasn’t capable of seeing him cross the finish line when it mattered the most.
It was starting to become a bit of a tradition. On the Sunday of every major championship for almost five years, Dustin Johnson would see himself in contention to win only to fall at the final hurdle.
It has to be said that on a couple of occasions luck wasn’t on his side, at Whistling Straits for example, but a string of nervy finishes led to him being branded something every golfer fears the most; a choker.
Three weeks ago at Oakmont, Dustin Johnson proved myself and a host of golf pundits worldwide wrong by winning the US Open in style, writing his name into golfing folklore and confirming his arrival as a top contender for golf’s number one spot.
His performance in that final round was faultless as he carded a 69 on one of golf’s most formidable courses. Off the tee he was straight and long, his wedge play was sublime and crucially he holed clinch putts throughout the round, something which he’s struggled to do in the past.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of that round however, was the fact that he was so cool and composed from start to finish despite that now infamous USGA controversy which took place. If anyone doubted DJ’s mental strength before that round, their minds have most certainly now been changed.
Last Sunday's win at the Bridgestone Invitational, his third WGC win (only Tiger Woods has won more) must be the perfect end to a fairy-tale couple of weeks for the South Carolina star.
A final round of 66 was enough to ensure him a one-shot victory over Scott Piercy after Jason Day’s collapse on the final nine.
Where most players tend to suffer from some form of post major hangover, DJ seems to be unaffected by his recent triumph. Better yet, he seems to be reinvigorated. Back to back wins are an incredible rarity, a feat only achieved by the best, playing at their very best. Dustin Johnson is without question playing at his very best.
This week’s Open at Royal Troon could well be the most exciting Open Championship to be played in recent years.
There has been so much talk of the big three since McIlroy, Day and Spieth began to take the golfing world by the horns.
All three of these men however will have to reach their peak in form if they’re to have a chance of competing against a red-hot, confident Dustin Johnson.
Although they’re all capable of closing it out on any given Sunday, all three have also struggled as of late.
McIlroy’s putting has been heavily criticised, Jordan Spieth’s ball striking has been below par since the start of the year and Jason Day seemed mentally drained trying to close it out at Firestone last weekend.
Day would be the best bet to put it up to Johnson but he’ll need to cut out some of the mistakes he’s been making lately if he’s to be victorious, particularly with his driver.
Troon is no easy golf course to tackle, especially if the weather’s poor. Gary Player once described the back nine holes as ‘the most difficult in the world, when the wind is blowing’, and whoever wins will have to be prepared to play in such conditions.
Johnson seems perfectly equipped for such a test. He can keep the ball high to use the wind when it’s behind him and play it low to pierce the wind when it’s against him. The fade which he’s begun playing lately has given him pinpoint accuracy and length off the tee and this will be the key for DJ.
As difficult as Troon is, it’s a very short golf course. If Dustin can keep the ball on the fairway and his wedge game up to scratch, he should be able to overpower the golf course and post some hugely impressive numbers.
Last week he was in Dublin playing Portmarnock and the Island to tune-up his links game before flying to Scotland so he’s likely to be razor sharp in the necessary areas.
He’s proved himself before at the Open, finishing as the runner-up in 2011 and with this newfound belief he’s the favourite to go all the way.
The standard of golf being played over the last two years might be up there as the finest ever seen. Every player in the world’s top-30 is capable of winning majors.
Golf has never been more competitive. Winning has never been more difficult. But has golf ever seen a player with as much raw talent tee-to-green as Dustin Johnson?
The past six champions at Troon have all been American. I expect DJ to be the one to continue this trend this week.