Dustin Johnson anticipated having his best chance yet to earn a green jacket this week in the 81st Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club.
He entered the tournament as the No. 1 and hottest player in the world with victories in three consecutive starts, and he has been improving his finishes at Augusta National, capped by a career-best tie for fourth last year.
But a nasty spill has eliminated his opportunity.
The Coastal Carolina University alumnus withdrew from the Masters on Thursday citing a back injury he suffered while slipping on stairs at his Augusta rental home Wednesday afternoon.
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Johnson received therapy Wednesday night and Thursday morning and hit balls on the Augusta National driving range beginning about an hour before his scheduled 2:03 p.m. tee time before determining he was unable to play.
“Obviously my heart is in it and it wants to play. The more I thought about it I just wasn’t going to have any chance,” Johnson said. “It’s unbelievably difficult. I feel I’m playing the best golf of my career right now and this is one of my favorite tournaments of the year, I look forward to it every year. … I’m very sad I had to do it but it’s just a freak accident.
“It sucks really bad.”
Johnson said it was raining Wednesday afternoon when he went outside to move a car in the driveway with just socks on his feet. He slipped on three stairs and landed hard on his lower left back and elbow, which was swollen and bruised Thursday.
He needed help getting up from brother and caddie Austin Johnson, then received a series of heat, ice and compression treatments and took part in mobility exercises for most of the night, receiving little sleep.
The treatments, which included Dr. Ara Suppiah, who specializes in golf-related injuries, and Johnson’s physical trainer, Joey Diovisalvi, were intended to control pain overnight, minimize stiffness and avoid spasms.
“I was doing everything I could to try to play,” Johnson said. “I was up pretty much all night trying to get it ready for today. I’ve been worked on all morning. I can make some swings, but I can’t swing full and can’t make my normal swing. I just don’t feel there’s any chance I can compete.”
Johnson took some guarded swings for about 15 minutes, returned to the PGA Tour’s physiotherapy trailer for 10 minutes, then returned to the range and used progressively longer clubs beginning with wedges and finishing with driver.
“It’s just really tight,” Johnson said. “I was making some swings on the range and I could go max about 80 percent. It’s just so tight I couldn’t get through it. The backswing was fine, I could make a good backswing. But every time down right at impact it would just catch. I just don’t feel like there’s any chance of me even competing.”
After the warmup, Johnson initially indicated he would attempt to play.
Prior to leaving the range, Johnson asked Fred Ridley, chairman of the Masters competition and rules committees, if he would be allowed to have physical therapy work done on the course during his round.
Johnson was scheduled to be in the final group of the day with Bubba Watson and Jimmy Walker so no groups would be held up behind them, and Ridley said he informed Johnson he would be allowed to have up to 15 cumulative minutes of therapy done during the round. “It’s a pace of play issue,” Ridley said.
Diovisalvi was planning to follow him on the course to provide any therapy or stretching if requested.
But Johnson changed his mind a few minutes later and just a few minutes before his tee time while on the practice putting green. “Sitting there on the putting green I made a few swings and I just can’t swing the club,” he said. “It hurts.”
Johnson said he was already planning to be off for the next three weeks. “It feels like in probably two days I’ll be fine,” he said. “If it had happened on Monday I don’t think we’d have any issues.”
Thursday marked the second time Johnson has withdrawn from the Masters. He pulled out a couple days before the opening round in 2012, saying he injured his back while attempting to lift a jet ski.