PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Dustin Johnson has played sparingly thus far in the new wraparound 2013-14 PGA Tour season, but he’s made his appearances count.
He has played in just two of the tour’s 11 individual stroke-play events since the new season began with the first round of the Frys.com Open on Oct. 10, yet he’s seventh on the tour money list and eighth in FedExCup points.
That’s because the Coastal Carolina alumnus won the $8.5 million World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions event in China in early November and tied for sixth in his title defense at the 30-player, $5.7 million Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, Hawaii, in early January.
He hasn’t played competitively in a full month entering Thursday’s opening round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, a tournament he won back-to-back in 2009-10 to account for two of his eight PGA Tour wins.
Johnson looks at this Ryder Cup year with high expectations, and who can blame him? He held off a couple of European stalwarts in Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter in the WGC-HSBC Champions for his first official win of the season, and calls it one of the biggest victories of his career.
“Obviously winning the WGC with that field, especially the way I started, it was great,” said Johnson, who followed an opening-round 69 with rounds of 63, 66 and 66. “Having two Ryder Cuppers right there on my tail. Battling with these guys. They’re great competitors and they don’t let up at all. So it was nice to get a good victory like that. It was one of my biggest wins for sure.”
Even though Johnson does not have a major, the HSBC win should be a helpful reference going forward on golf’s grander stages.
“It gives me a lot of confidence; I’m feeling good about the game,” Johnson said. “I’m really happy about where it’s at. Obviously it can still get better but I’m pleased where it’s at right now.”
Johnson hasn’t played nearly as well over the past three months when he has teed it up in fun, unofficial events. In December, he finished last in Tiger Woods’ 18-player Northwestern Mutual World Challenge and teamed with Jason Dufner to finish second-to-last in the 12-team Franklin Templeton Shark Shootout.
Johnson has obviously been more focused on golf when the stakes have been higher.
His engagement to Paulina Gretzky has been a cause of media and public attention, and has been very important to the 29-year-old.
“It’s been great. Paulina is so special,” Johnson said. “Having her, especially taking another step in my life. It’s part of growing up, and it’s been great. We’re looking forward to spending the rest of our lives together.”
This week he’ll be spending some quality time with his soon-to-be father-in-law Wayne Gretzky. They are pro-am teammates for the second consecutive year, and have quite the interesting opening-round pairing Thursday with John Daly and Kid Rock at 8:11 a.m. (11:11 a.m. EST) on Spyglass Hill.
Johnson believes he’s learned much from “The Great One” on dealing with fans and the media as a professional athlete.
“Paulina’s family is just fantastic,” Johnson said. “They are great people. Being able to hang around Wayne so much, learning from him and watching the way he handles himself and the way he does things is great.”
Paulina travels with Johnson to nearly every event. Golf follows the sun so the two are able to spend some good time at some of the nicest places in either the states or other parts of the world.
“We have fun traveling together, we enjoy it,” Johnson said. “We get to see the world. It’s a lot of fun, especially now that I have someone to share it with.”