Dustin Johnson not 'short-changed' as Masters defence comes round quickly

It doesn’t seem fair. After trying so hard to win the major closest to home and finally succeeding, Dustin Johnson is gearing up for a title defence after just 140 days. But the man himself isn’t too bothered about his reign as Masters champion potentially being the shortest in history.

Dustin Johnson wipes away a tear during the Green Jacket ceremony after winning the 2020 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club last November. Picture: Rob Carr/Getty Images.

“No, I do not feel short-changed,” insisted the American about claiming his Green Jacket in a rescheduled 2020 edition in November and now heading back to Augusta National this week for the event’s 85th staging back in its traditional April slot. “It wouldn't bother me if I only had it for a day. It would be okay. Five months, a year, one month, a day, it doesn't really make a difference to me.”

With the feat having been last achieved by Tiger Woods in 2002, recent history is against Johnson making it back-to-back wins at the Georgia venue, though the world No 1 is perfectly entitled to quietly fancy his chances.

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He’d chalked up four top-10 finishes in a row in the season’s opening major before landing the jackpot, carding rounds of 65-70-65-68 for a record-breaking 20-under-par total and a resounding five-shot victory.

“I felt like I was in complete control of the golf ball pretty much the whole week,” said Johnson in reflective mode. “Distance control; I drove it pretty well. That's the biggest thing is I really drove it well that week. I was super focused all week and knew exactly what I was going to do and was able to execute.”

It was a rare sight when Johnson showed raw emotion in an interview shortly after being presented with his Green Jacket by the 2019 winner, Tiger Woods. Even though he’d won the US Open in 2016 and started the final round with a four-shot lead, the strain of trying to get the job done took its toll.

“I was definitely nervous starting the day because obviously it meant so much to me,” he said. “So I was feeling it from kind of the time when I woke up. I couldn't eat any breakfast, really. Took a couple bites. But it was hard to get down for some reason, which I've never had that problem before.

“And then on the course, too, I remember walking down trying to eat a little bit of an almond butter and jelly sandwich and took one bite and had to wash it down with water. Yeah, I was definitely a little nervous, not in a bad way, more just because it meant so much to me, and I obviously really wanted to win the Masters.”

Johnson’s new record total was set on a rain-softened course, with conditions expected to be a bit firmer with the event back in its normal spring slot. “In November, you could be a lot more aggressive with longer clubs because they would stop and then hold the green,” observed the defending champion.

“One of the guys I was playing with hit a 3-wood to like the back left pin on 15, and it landed right next to the hole and stopped to like a couple feet. So that's just a shot that in April, unless we just get tons of rain, is not possible.”

Bryson DeChambeau reckoned it was possible for him to regard Augusta National as par 67 opposed to 72 heading into last year’s event only to be left looking a bit daft as he finished 18 shots behind Johnson on two-under.

Rory McIlroy, who needs to win The Masters to complete a career grand slam, admitted recently that he’d encountered “swing issues” due to trying to keep up with DeChambeau in the power stakes after seeing him tame Winged Foot, one of the toughest tests in the game, to win the US Open last September, but Johnson isn’t about to fall into the same trap.

“If I want to, I could hit it further,” he confessed. “I had a driver that I could definitely hit it a lot further than the one I'm playing. But, to me, the little bit of the extra distance that came with it, obviously the harder you swing, obviously the bigger your misses are. For me, it just didn't help.

“Until I feel like when at my best that I can't beat someone, then I'll try and change something. But as of right now, I feel like if I play my best golf, I feel like I can beat whoever I'm playing against.”

In preparation for his title defence, the 36-year-old paid an early visit to Augusta National last month to discover he’s sharing a locker with Fuzzy Zoeller, the last man to win the event at the first attempt in 1979.

“I went up for a couple days,” he said. “That was pretty cool, first time back, going into the Champions Locker Room and stuff. That was a really neat experience. First time I spent the night on the grounds, so that was another cool first-time experience, and I had dinner in my Green Jacket. That was a lot of fun.”

Johnson has already tasted victory this year, having landed the Saudi International on the European for the second time in three attempts in February. He was eclipsed by Bob MacIntyre in their group in last week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Texas before pulling out of his week’s Valero Texas Open, but is relishing being back at Augusta, where a limited number of patrons will be in attendance.

“The game feels like it's in pretty good form, and it's really close to being really good again,” said Johnson. “I think it will be back to feeling like a normal Masters. Obviously last year, there was nothing normal for the whole year, really. I think this year in April, the Masters will feel like it's back, and it will feel the same. I'm definitely looking forward to that.”

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