By Kevin Currie
Coming back from his six-month leave of absence, Dustin Johnson’s outlook for 2015 seemed cloudy to the prognosticators, but not to him.
He has played five events and contended in three of them. He missed the cut in his first start at the Farmers Insurance Open and failed to play the weekend at the Honda Classic.
Johnson admitted, “The only week that I really didn’t prepare well would have been last week at the Honda. I just wasn’t prepared for that week. But every other week, I felt like I’ve really prepared very well and played good.”
His other results show that has been the case. Johnson tied for fourth at Pebble Beach, where he has won twice. The following week, he lost in a playoff at the Northern Trust despite one of the best up-and-down birdies you will see anywhere on tour this year.
Johnson wrapped a 68 in the first round and a 69 in the third round around a 1-over 73 in Round 2 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship. He carded another 69 in the final round at Trump National Doral as he toppled fellow big-hitters J.B. Holmes and Bubba Watson.
The win was Johnson’s ninth on the PGA Tour and it stretched his streak to eight straight seasons with at least one win on tour.
Still, the questions linger about his leave of absence. Johnson reiterated on Sunday that he did not fail a drug test as some had reported. He also hasn’t gone into much detail about why he took the leave.
“Because it’s personal and frankly … it’s not really anybody’s business,” Johnson said on Sunday.
He will have to get used to those questions for a little while longer. They likely won’t fade until after the Masters, where more international press will be on hand.
That also will be a big week for Johnson. He admitted Sunday he’ll need to work on his short game and his putting before the season’s first major.
If that work yields positive results, Johnson will be among the favorites at Augusta. His game fits the course as he is second on tour in driving distance and he can work the ball both directions.
Length is key at many courses, especially Augusta, where big hitters have won 11 of the last 14 Masters titles.
Johnson’s best finish at the Masters was a tie for 13th in 2013. His struggles there, combined with the added media scrutiny, could lead to another disappointing week.
Those things don’t matter as much to Johnson after his leave.
“It’s hard to describe, but just from the first day he was born, your perspective on life completely changes. Things that were important aren’t important anymore. He’s kind of the only thing that’s really important,” Johnson said of his newborn son. “It kind of makes life a lot easier I think, just because there’s just one thing that’s kind of all you think about. It definitely simplifies stuff.”
With a clear head, and a body that he toned during his leave, Johnson will be a factor throughout the season. Things outside of his golf game are now in focus, and that could lead to big things for the big hitter.
TOP LPGA PLAYERS BATTLE AGAIN
It seems rather common on the LPGA Tour for the top three players in the world rankings to battle for a title. That happened this past weekend in Singapore, and, as an added bonus, the fourth-ranked woman in the world was right there, too.
Lydia Ko, Inbee Park and Stacy Lewis are the top three players in the rankings. They finished 2-1-3 in the standings at the HSBC Women’s Champions.
All three players were within three strokes of each other through each of the first three rounds. Lewis ended four shots behind Park, who fired a 6-under 66 in the first round and went on to win the title in wire-to-wire fashion.
Looking at their results from 2014, those three players played in the same event 18 times. All three finished inside the top four on the leaderboard twice last year.
At the Swinging Skirts event, Ko won the title, Lewis was second and Park tied for fourth. Later in the year, Park won in Taiwan, while Lewis was second and Ko third.
In the 18 events they played together in 2014, the three combined for eight victories, and in five of those eight wins, at least one of the other two finished inside the top five as well.
By comparison, the top three players in the current men’s world rankings played 12 events together last season – four World Golf Championships, four majors, three FedExCup playoff events and the Players Championship.
Their best combined week was at the Masters, where world No. 2 Bubba Watson was the winner, No. 1 Rory McIlroy tied for eighth and No. 3 Henrik Stenson shared 14th place.
The top players in the women’s game play together more often than the men do, so their battles will be more frequent. The only shame of this battle was that it happened in the middle of the night on the East Coast of the United States.
* PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem admitted in a Sunday interview that he whiffed in not getting Ryder Cup points attached to the five fall events that will kick off the 2015-16 wrap-around schedule. Unless someone were to win more than one of those events or have several top-five finishes, it won’t matter. The big names will rarely play those events, and those who do play them will have a long climb up the points standings to try to make the U.S. Ryder Cup team.
* The purses on the PGA Tour continue to grow. With two events this past weekend, the difference in the money was staggering. Bubba Watson finished third behind Dustin Johnson, who earned $1.57 million for the win, at the WGC- Cadillac Championship, yet earned the same amount ($540,000) as Alex Cejka did for winning the opposite event in Puerto Rico. The difference between the last-place finishers was a healthy $36,550.
Kevin Currie is the Senior Golf Editor for SportsNetwork.com.