No. 1 Johnson expects tougher test to defend Masters title

Washington (AFP) –


Defending champion Dustin Johnson says he does not feel shortchanged by having only five months to reign as Masters champion after winning the green jacket last November at Augusta National.

But the 36-year-old American expects the famed course will play much harder and quicker next month than when he shattered the course record after a Covid-19 pandemic postponement to capture his second major title.

"November, the greens were soft. You could be a lot more aggressive with longer clubs. They would stop and hold the greens," Johnson said Tuesday in a Masters conference call.

"I'd imagine it's going to be pretty firm and fast. It's definitely not going to be as soft as it was. You're going to have to be able to land the ball in different spots.

"It looks like it's shaping up to be a normal Masters."

That means lightning-fast greens and formidable shotmaking choices among the Georgia pines, where world number one Johnson won in a tournament-record 20-under par last year.

After growing up only an hour north of the course, Johnson is fine with his reign lasting only five months instead of the usual 12.

"No, I do not feel shortchanged. It wouldn't bother me if I only had it for a day," Johnson said of the green jacket. "The coolest thing was probably going back up to Augusta last week, wearing the jacket on the grounds."

After his journey down Magnolia Lane on March 2-3, Johnson went down memory lane in his first round at Augusta National since winning, declaring the course in "immaculate condition" and spent a night there for the first time.

"Ate dinner in the green jacket. That was fun," he said. "On most of the holes, I was definitely thinking about the shots I hit on the Sunday, especially that first round."

Johnson, whose only other major title came at the 2016 US Open at Oakmont, says the Masters victory provided a measure of validation.

"It definitely gives me more confidence. It definitely reassured me that I am a very good player and I can win these big golf tournaments," Johnson said.

"It's definitely relieves a lot of pressure when I step back on the grounds for the Masters once again."

Johnson, who withdrew from Tokyo Olympics consideration to focus on the British Open and WGC St. Jude Invitational, said he pondered trying for more distance such as reigning US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau, but didn't see any advantage for him.

"It's what works for him," Johnson said. "If you can hit it further and control it, you definitely have an advantage.

"If I want to, I could hit it further. I have a driver I could hit a lot further than the one I'm playing. The little bit of extra distance, the harder you swing, the bigger your misses are. It just didn't help.

"When I think I can't beat someone, then I might look at changing. When I play my best golf, I feel like I can beat whoever I'm playing against."

- 'An amazing experience' -

That said, Johnson still has some fine tuning to make on his game before he defends the green jacket on April 8-11.

"I've got a little ways to go," he said. "My game is not quite where I would like it to be. I've got plenty of time to get it back in order leading up to Augusta.

"It's really close to being pretty good again."

Being a Masters champion has been as thrilling as Johnson imagined it would.

"It's incredible. It's something I dreamed of as a kid," he said. "It has just been an amazing experience."

Now Johnson wants to revive the form he displayed five months ago.

"I felt like I was in complete control of the golf ball the whole week," Johnson said. "I was super focused all week and knew exactly what I was going to do and was able to execute."