In his comeback from the staircase fall that wrecked his Masters dream, world No 1 Dustin Johnson is intent on climbing to heights uncharted by anybody other than Tiger Woods in recent times.
The 32-year-old tees it up in Thursday’s first round of the Wells Fargo Championship in North Carolina knowing that if he wins he will become the first player to win four PGA Tour events in succession since Woods nine years ago. And the connection would not stop there.
Victory at Eagle Point Golf Club – the layout standing in for usual venue, Quail Hollow, which hosts the US PGA in August – would take Johnson more than five points clear at the top of the world rankings. Only Woods has enjoyed such a commanding gap in the past two decades and that honour would surely be some sort of consolation following the bizarre injury on the eve of Augusta which led to his withdrawal on the first tee.
Following the pro-am on Wednesday, Johnson explained the emotional pain of missing the Masters. “I watched it – I had to, as I was on the sofa and there wasn’t anything else on TV,” he said. “It was tough watching, yes. I was playing the best golf of my career leading into the Masters. But it happens and I’m good to go now. I’m looking forward to this week and next week [the Players Championship] then on to the US Open [in June].”
Johnson is relieved to make it back so soon. In the days after his tumble at the Augusta rental home, the pain was such that he underwent an MRI scan. “I was sore for a lot longer than I thought I’d be, but I had a scan and it was just bad bruising,” he said. “Only last Friday could I hit balls without feeling it, so I haven’t practised much and I haven’t many high expectations this week. But I am swinging nicely and I’m hitting it pretty good.”
Even on a layout which he called “challenging” Johnson must be classed an overwhelming favourite in a field also containing Jon Rahm, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and England’s Paul Casey.