Dustin Johnson looks to finally conquer THE PLAYERS Championship

Mandatory Credit: Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports /

Dustin Johnson is the best player in the world today, but will that translate to success at THE PLAYERS Championship?

In case you’ve come here without watching any PGA Tour golf this year, allow me to catch you up. Dustin Johnson is good. He’s better than good, really. Dustin Johnson is white-hot, almost indisputably the best in the world. He won three tournaments in a row, missed The Masters and the month after it due to injury, but then came back and nearly won on Sunday at Eagle Point. But the question remains – will that translate to a win at THE PLAYERS Championship?

It’s almost impossible to imagine that there’s any course in the world that could derail DJ in his pursuit of some Tiger-esque goals this year. However, if one exists, it’s likely TPC Sawgrass.

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The host of THE PLAYERS since 1982, Pete Dye’s famed Stadium Course has seen some of golf’s biggest names emerge victorious. The names read like an exhibit in the World Golf Hall of Fame. From the stars of yesteryear like Greg Norman and Fred Couples to two of the best of all time in Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods and on to today’s stars like Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day, THE PLAYERS Championship has seen the game’s best come out on top in what many call golf’s fifth major.

Why, then, is it that DJ has struggled so mightily over the years at THE PLAYERS? The answer is in the numbers.

Johnson’s advantages are often negated at The PLAYERS Championship

When you think of Dustin Johnson, the first thing you look at is his monstrous length off the tee. It’s been the hallmark of his career from the day he joined the PGA Tour. In this remarkable early part of the season, Johnson is averaging an astounding 315.2 yards off the tee. When he’s playing wedges into greens where most have middle irons, he almost can’t help but to win.

However, Sawgrass is one of the rare courses where pure distance isn’t such an overpowering advantage. As Dye and then-PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman wanted 35 years ago, one must have a truly-balanced game to win here. Water, sand or both are nearly always in play. And the routing still forces players to play left and right, into and with prevailing winds.

Dustin Johnson The PLAYERS Championship
Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports /

The old cliché about “drive for show, putt for dough” has been chipped away at in recent years. That said, Johnson has seen much of his success in spite of some sub-par work on the greens. Despite leading the Tour in both greens-in-regulation and proximity to the hole, DJ is 114th in one-putt percentage (38.46), and 157th in putts-per-round (29.5).

In eight career starts at THE PLAYERS, Johnson has made seven cuts, but has yet to record a top-25 finish. His average score is 72.577, and he has just two rounds under 70. Really, it’s a testament to Johnson’s pure skill and athleticism that he’s done that well, all things considered.

One need only look back at Rickie Fowler’s run to the 2015 title to see what matters. Sure, Fowler drove the ball incredibly that week, but he also putted out of his mind, making birdies on No. 17 a ridiculous five times.

Johnson must “better his best” to continue his streak

Don’t get me wrong in any of this. Johnson absolutely has what it takes to win this week. We’ve seen that at the U.S. Open the last two years. Had it not been for that fluke back injury in Augusta, more of the same.

However, this simply goes to show that, even when he seems to be on top of the world, Johnson will still need to tailor his game to this test. For every bomber like Jason Day, there’s a Fred Funk or Matt Kuchar hot on their heels, striking pure irons and putting the lights out.

Johnson should find some kindred spirits in his Thursday pairing, heading out with fellow three-time winner Justin Thomas and a returning Rory McIlroy. Will he be able to adapt his game for success? We’ll soon find out.

Next: Five Bold Predictions for The PLAYERS Championship

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