HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — Dustin Johnson is not satisfied with his Masters’ history, no matter how many top-10 finishes he posts at Augusta National.
The top-ranked Johnson wound up 10th in last week’s major, his third straight appearance in the top 10 on the challenging layout.
“I definitely expect better,” Johnson said Wednesday in prepping for this week’s RBC Heritage. “I felt like I played well enough to win last week.”
The problem was simple enough to identify — watching putts not fall in.
“The thing that’s most frustrating is it wasn’t that I was hitting bad putts. I was actually hitting good putts, they just weren’t going in,” he said.
Johnson hopes to remedy that at Harbour Town Golf Links, a place the South Carolina native has not played professionally since 2009. Johnson, who’s won a PGA Tour event in 11 straight seasons, typically took a vacation after the Masters to shake off the stress that comes with the first major.
But as a newly signed golf ambassador to title sponsor RBC, “I’ll be back here for the next few years.”
A popular theory about Johnson’s absence was his length off the tee and strength made him a bad fit for architect Pete Dye’s narrow fairways and small greens. One of the PGA Tour’s tightest courses puts a premium on shot location versus 350-yard drives.
But Johnson proved that theory wrong with birdies on 10 of the last 17 holes in Wednesday’s pro-am.
“Last time I checked, he’s the No. 1 golfer in the world. He is the best golfer on the planet,” said Wesley Bryan, the RBC Heritage’s defending champion and Johnson’s former high school teammate. “So as long as we’re playing the game of golf, I think that he’s got a good chance of winning anywhere he tees it up.”
Johnson heads a less power-packed field than at Augusta National. There are seven of the top 25 in the field: Paul Casey (13th), Marc Leishman (16th), Tyrell Hatton (18th), Matt Kuchar (21st), Brian Harman (23rd) and Kevin Kisner (25th).
Johnson acknowledged he’ll use the driver less frequently, “four, maybe five times in a round,” than most weeks on tour. Still, it comes down to making shots and few on tour do that as well as Johnson.
“It doesn’t matter where you play or what course it is, you’ve still got to hit good golf shots no matter what you’re hitting off the tee,” he said. “I like this golf course.”
That could be bad news for the field, which includes perennial Harbour Town runner-up Luke Donald. He’s finished in the top three here seven of the past nine times he has played. Donald is second all-time behind Jim Furyk in money earned at the RBC Heritage with more than $3.76 million.
A former No. 1, Donald said it’s essential to focus on the course, not the competitors.
Having Johnson at Harbour Town “strengthens the field and brings a little more interest to the tournament,” said Donald, who finished a stroke behind Bryan last year. “But, again, I’ll be playing against the course, not Dustin.”
Johnson likes his game so far this season. He won the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii three months ago and finished second at Pebble Beach.
“Not a great job at winning,” he said. “But the game definitely (is) in good form. I’ve got a lot of confidence in my game right now, and I’m really looking forward to this tournament.”