Dustin Johnson places more faith in the means by which he returned to No 1 in the world than the fact he will start the second major of the year in prime position. Johnson’s six-stroke victory at the St Jude Classic means he has usurped Justin Thomas just days before the US Open gets under way at Shinnecock Hills.
“Winning, I think, is a bigger confidence booster than being No 1 in the world,” Johnson said. “For me, playing the way I did all week, playing the way I did on Sunday knowing everything that was on the line, gives me a lot of confidence.
“I think it was a big win, it was a big statement and I’m proud of the way I played, the way I handled it.”
Now for the tricky part – no player has won the week before the US Open and immediately repeated the feat in more illustrious company. “Why not be the first one to do it?” Johnson asked. “I don’t know why it hasn’t happened but the US Open, it’s a tough place to go win. I did win it in 2016 so I know what it takes.”
Johnson’s Memphis success was concluded in stunning style, the 33-year-old holing out from 171 yards and the semi-rough on the 72nd hole. Victory was secure even before his moment of nine-iron magic.
“I knew it was a really good shot,” the American said. “By the reaction from the crowd, I thought it might have gone in but I couldn’t see it because of the sun, so it was kind of tough. What a cool way to end.”
This year had been something of a slow burner for Johnson, a matter he links to putting troubles. Rounds of 67, 63, 65 and 66 at the St Jude endorsed his decision to compete in the week before the US Open.
Phil Mickelson’s closing 65 for a share of 12th did likewise as the 47-year-old attempts to complete a career clean sweep of major titles at Shinnecock. “You don’t want to go in there limping,” he said. “I feel good with parts of my game and I just need to put it all together and play some of my best golf for four days.”
Johnson found time to praise the European Tour for its innovative Shot Clock Masters, which took place in Austria over the weekend. In a bid to quicken rounds and highlight the curse of slow play the event involves players having to hit shots within a certain time or face a penalty.
Johnson is one of the quickest players, so would he like a similar format in the US? “It wouldn’t bother me one bit. I liked it. I think I read they played 50 minutes faster than the average, like just under four hours and 10 minutes in threesomes. That’s how we should be playing but unfortunately it takes us five hours with three pros in a group of three. That’s a little long. I like the shot clock.”
Tiger Woods is already at Shinnecock, the three-times US Open winner having played practice holes in the company of Jordan Spieth on Sunday. Hank Haney, Woods’s former coach, has said it will be “difficult” for his former pupil to win a US Open again because of the difficulty of courses. David Duval, a former world No 1 and now television analyst, disagrees.
“At this point, with what we’ve seen with his most recent reincarnation and comeback, I would go the opposite way. Think back to when he won with not hitting driver at an Open [2006 at Royal Liverpool]. He has not driven the ball particularly well. He’s certainly got a lot of speed and distance but accuracy has not been there. His iron play has been up and down a little bit but I think that’s where the strength has been. So potentially taking the driver out of his hands might actually give him a better opportunity.”
Bookmakers side with Haney; Woods is generally priced around 20-1 to win a 15th major on Sunday.