It has been nearly six weeks since Dustin Johnson hit a golf shot in competition.
But it has been nearly 12 weeks since he was defeated.
Though some time has passed, the Coastal Carolina alumnus and top-ranked player in the world nonetheless enters the 15th Wells Fargo Championship at Eagle Point Golf Club riding a three-tournament win streak.
He’s trying to become the first player to win four consecutive PGA Tour starts since Tiger Woods in 2007-2008.
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“It’s been so long but obviously I was on a good roll, playing the best golf of my career leading into Augusta,” Johnson said Wednesday. “I’ve had a lot more time off than I would have liked to have had. I still feel like I’m swinging really well. I hit a few good shots out there today, but we’ll just have to see. I haven’t played many rounds and definitely haven’t played any competitive rounds since, what, six weeks ago.”
Johnson’s unintended five-week break from the PGA Tour was a result of a back injury he incurred on the eve the first round of the Masters. He said he slipped on stairs outside his rental home in Augusta and landed hard on his back, and he withdrew from the Masters minutes before his tee time after attempting to hit balls on the range for nearly an hour.
Johnson said he had an MRI on his back and it didn’t reveal any structural damage, so it was just severely bruised. It took about three full weeks to heal. He said that Friday was the first day he was able to hit balls and not feel pain.
“Obviously I haven’t played much or done a whole lot of practicing, but the body’s all good. I’m glad to be back out playing again,” Johnson said. “I expect to play well. I feel like I haven’t practiced much, but I’ve practiced enough to compete.”
Johnson’s bounce-back ability is becoming legendary, and like he has so often with numerous other setbacks and unfortunate events in his career, Johnson said he has already moved on from the disappointment of the injury and being forced to miss the Masters.
“Crazy things happen,” Johnson said. “The only time it was maybe tough was just watching the tournament, but after watching it or after Sunday, it’s been fine.”
Over the course of six weeks, Johnson won the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club in mid-February, World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship and World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship in late March in successive starts to increase his PGA Tour wins total to 15. He has at least one win in each of his 10 seasons on tour.
He cruised to a five-shot win in the Genesis Open, held on to win by a shot in Mexico, and ended many of his matches early in the Match Play Championship.
He has won six times in 18 starts since the U.S. Open last June. No other player has more than three PGA Tour wins in that time.
“Those kind of runs is more like what we saw from Tiger for so many years where he just continued to perform at a high level every time he pegged it up,” said Adam Scott, who is ranked 11th in the Official World Golf Ranking. “You know, if he keeps that going, then he’s on track to being one of the greatest players that’s ever played because he’s got all the weapons.”
Johnson hasn’t played the Wells Fargo Championship since 2011. He has a top finish of 29th in three appearances, which means little this week with the tournament moving to Eagle Point for one year as Quail Hollow Club prepares to host the PGA Championship in August.
He has missed the event because of injury and an extended break from competition in 2015. But he has also simply chosen not to play in a tournament that is normally played just about an hour’s drive from his hometown of Columbia.
“The last couple years I would have four weeks off going into The Players Championship, so I figured, especially since I didn’t play Houston and then obviously I didn’t play Augusta, I wanted to get some reps in before The Players,” Johnson said. “And I hadn’t played here in a while, so it was kind of close to home for me, so it was pretty easy. I’m glad I came down. This golf course is great.”
In addition to the Masters in Augusta, the two closest PGA Tour events to his hometown and the Myrtle Beach area, where he went to college and still has a golf school, are the RBC Heritage in Hilton Head Island and Wells Fargo in Charlotte.
Johnson played in Hilton Head in his first two seasons on the PGA Tour but missed the cut both times and hasn’t returned since 2009. He says not averse to playing close to home, however.
“I like playing close to home. It’s good to see some people that I don’t always get to see, and have a lot of fans, so it’s great,” Johnson said. “The reason I don’t play Hilton Head is me and that golf course don’t get along too well. But I like this golf course, I like Quail Hollow, so playing Wells Fargo, I’m happy to come back here and play.”
Johnson played nine holes Tuesday and 18 holes in Wednesday’s pro-am, paying particular attention to areas around Eagle Point’s greens.
“I really like the golf course,” Johnson said. “It’s really pretty and it’s in perfect condition. I can’t find anything wrong with it condition-wise. It’s one of the best conditioned courses we play all year. I think it’s going to be challenging, especially with the firmness of the greens and they’ve got a lot of slope in them. Especially if the wind picks up, it’s going to be very challenging.”
Johnson will generally have room off the tee for his prodigious drives, but there will be a premium on his iron shots into greens and his work around the greens, which are very undulating and have run-off areas that will catch balls that aren’t precisely placed.
“Off the tee it’s pretty much straightforward where you want to hit it, but the greens are the big place where you’ve got to learn,” Johnson said.