World No. 1 Dustin Johnson: I’m trending in the right direction

The two-time Major Champion tees it up in this week’s Valspar Championship seeking a first top-10 finish since mid-February.

In one sense you might have thought that if any golfer had no need to insist that he's trending in the right direction the World No. 1 would be that man.

But, as Dustin Johnson prepares his challenge for this week's Valspar Championship at the Innisbrook Resort, those were his exact words.

The 36-year-old is easily, perhaps too easily, portrayed as a bit of a dope, but his peers admire his golfing brain and he's always been refreshingly honest about his game.

He knows that results in the early part of 2021 hid the truth that he'd lost form before the truth became impossible to ignore.

Through late 2020 and early 2021 he played a stretch of 10 events, finishing outside the top 11 in only one of them, winning four.

Since that run ended, he's finished outside the top 50 at the WGC Workday Championship, very nearly repeated that at THE PLAYERS, failed to make the knockout stages of the WGC Dell Match Play and missed the cut on defence of his Masters title.

"I'm probably the tallest and shortest Masters winner," he quipped, reflecting that he'd had hold of the Green Jacket for just five months.

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At first glance his T13th at The Heritage was no leap back to elite level performance, but the signs were good.

It was not only his best finish in that tournament, he also recorded his best putting stats of the year - in both Strokes Gained and traditional categories.

Now he returns to the scene of a near-miss when the tournament was last held in 2019.

Johnson had posted 67 on Saturday to get himself into the final group on Sunday with the defending champion Paul Casey.

He might have expected to put pressure on the Englishman, but instead carded an ugly 74 to finish tied sixth.

Johnson was a standard 7/1 for the WGC Workday Championship back in late February, facing against a high quality field on a new track, but off the back of those 10 fine results.

This week he is rated a top price of 11/1 with William Hill.

Has value crept into his price?

Or is there a case for taking him on in round one? His last four Thursday scores read 77-73-74-70 and even in that excellent spell he failed to beat 70 four times in 10.

What of his Innisbrook efforts? His three Thursday scores are 75-72-69 and five of his eight laps of the course have reaped over-par totals.

His first round three-ball puts him up against Justin Thomas and Joaquin Niemann.

Thomas, like Johnson, has sometimes struggled at Innisbrook.
Thomas, like Johnson, has sometimes struggled at Innisbrook.

Thomas has broken par just three times in 10 circuits of Innisbrook, Niemann did so twice on his debut in 2019, including a first round 69.

Bet365 quote Johnson 8/5, Thomas 11/8 and Niemann best price 13/5.

Here's what Johnson had to say ahead of his late start on Thursday.

On his form coming into this week

"It feels pretty good. At The Heritage I felt like I drove it really well. Irons just were a little off. Obviously the greens there are really small, but I felt like my iron game is one of my strengths, and so just need to clean that up a little bit, but overall I felt pretty good at the Heritage. Just made too many mistakes with the irons.

"I feel like it's really close. I just haven't put it all together, especially for a week. I'm trending in the right direction."

On the Innisbrook challenge

"It's a good golf course. It's tough. I haven't played here a bunch, but the few times I have, I've liked the golf course.

"You've got to drive it well. You've got to hit your irons well. You've really got to think your way around here just because there's always something about a hole that can get you out of position.

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"And it's tough to make pars. I like that. You don't have to make a lot of birdies. You don't have to shoot way under par. Shoot a couple under each day and you're going to have a chance to win come Sunday."

On fading when in-contention in 2019

"I didn't play very well. Last group with Paul, right? I don't remember. I don't think I played poorly. I just didn't play very good. I didn't make a birdie? Well, obviously didn't putt very well."

On practice

"Don't really practice any more or less (than early in my career), but just practice better. The thing is as you get older, you kind of know what works and what doesn't, so I just practice a lot smarter. Quality versus quantity is how I kind of look at it.

"(Trackman) really helped with my wedge work. I always practised wedges, but it just really helped me dial in distance control with the wedges."

On where he keeps his trophies

"They're all in a box in my office. We're kind of in between houses, so I didn't unpack anything, even though I've been there for like three years, but just never unpacked any of them. They're all sitting together in boxes.

"The US Open? Yeah, that's sitting out. Actually it's not. I keep it in the case because I want it to look nice."

READ MORE: The Valspar Championship: A tournament vulnerable to international raiders

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