Saturday 21 October 2017

Johnson the one to beat, says McIlroy

Rory McIlroy plays a shot during yesterday’s practice round. Photo: Sam Greenwood/Getty
Rory McIlroy plays a shot during yesterday’s practice round. Photo: Sam Greenwood/Getty

James Corrigan

Dustin Johnson is famously so laid back, his rivals claim he could be used as a spirit level, and the world No 1 is not about to become stressed at his woeful record here at The Players, with his best performance in seven attempts a tie for 28th.

Yet the American is keen to address a baffling history at the event they call 'the fifth Major' and so continue his staggering recent run of form - three wins and a second in his past four appearances.

He knows that if he can win the US Open at Oakmont - as he did 12 months ago - there is no reason why he cannot win here.

"I believe so," Johnson said. "I haven't had a lot of success around here, so it's definitely a challenge for me. But I feel like if I'm going to play well here, this is the time that I will play well.

"Everything throughout my whole game is in really good form right now and I feel like I'm starting to play this course better. But it doesn't bother me, no. I try not to let things bother me. I think I do a pretty good job of it."

The rest know it. When asked what was most difficult about getting back to world No 1, Jason Day gave a succinct answer. "Dustin Johnson," he said.

Rory McIlroy concurred, declaring: "DJ just keeps doing it. He's got a five-point lead at the top of the world rankings at the minute, which is huge - it really is. I can't see him falling off or dropping off. It's up to the other guys to try and catch him."

Driveable

Sawgrass is plainly as good as place as any, although the changes should suit Johnson, particularly the shortened 12th, which is now a driveable par four.

He must be the favourite, but Day - the defending champion - might be a better bet, while Justin Rose also has his supporters.

A month on and Rose acknowledges it hurts that there is not a Green Jacket in his wardrobe. But he is also keen to point out that there is not a straitjacket hanging there, either.

The Englishman goes into the first round of The Players determined to meet the challenge he has set himself.

"My season will not be defined by losing in the Masters play-off," he said. "I think my year will be remembered for a great thing, or great things, which will happen. And my experience at Augusta last month will help that to occur."

Golfers always claim that they learn from defeat and swear that the bigger the loss, the bigger the lesson. But with Rose (36) it is difficult to muster the usual cynicism.

"Yeah, I took a few days imagining how good it would have felt and yeah, I was gutted," he admitted.

"I really thought I had it on that Sunday. Honestly, I didn't feel like anyone was going to beat me. I felt so confident. I was shocked, given it was the last few holes of the Masters, how ice-cold I felt.

"And that's what make me so excited for the Majors coming up. When the biggest moments come, I feel most at peace.

"So, straight away I was fine in my heart. There was emotion, but no tears. It didn't crush me. And I think that's because I'm positive about what the future still holds.

"If that proves to be my last chance to win the Masters then hell, yeah, that'll be the one that got away. But there's absolutely no point in dwelling on it now. Because you'll become sucked into it and start reliving it over and over."

With his grace in defeat, Rose became the poster boy of how to lose, with articles praising him across the world.

"Nick Price was my favourite golfer growing up," he said. "He managed to win Majors, get to world No 1, with a nice-guy image. He showed that the two are not mutually exclusive. So being nice in defeat is one part of it, but I also need to continue to be a fearless competitor." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

The Players, Live, Sky Sports 4, 7.0

Telegraph.co.uk

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