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HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – Dustin Johnson’s reign as Masters champion was the shortest on record when he had to leave his green jacket at Augusta National after missing the cut as the defending champion last week.
With rounds of 74-75, Johnson missed the weekend by two shots just five months after his record-destroying triumph in the November Masters in which he became the only player in tournament history to reach and finish at 20 under.
Instead of making a spirited title defense the final two rounds, Johnson was left only to help Hideki Matsuyama slip on the green jacket Sunday evening.
“I would have liked to have kept it, but I’ve got one, so it still felt good,” Johnson said Wednesday ahead of Thursday’s start of the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town Golf Links. “And obviously very happy for Hideki. He played great. I think it’s great for golf. It’s great for him.
“It was definitely neat to be a part of the ceremony, and I enjoyed being their champion for five months. I don’t care how long it was for, it’s still cool. I’m always going to be a Masters champion.”
No longer in possession of the coveted green jacket, the world No. 1 is eyeing a different sports coat – the red plaid number that goes to the winner this week. If he’s to add to his wardrobe, he has to take care of what ailed him at Augusta.
“The game is OK. Obviously last week I really struggled with the putting, so I’m putting in a lot of work this week on it,” he said. “Probably the worst I’ve putted in a long time.”
That’s an accurate statement – Johnson had two three-putts in the first round and four three-putts in the second round.
“It was disappointing,” Johnson said of not putting up a better defense of his title. “Thursday was tough. But still, a couple three-putts on Thursday and then double the last hole, even though I kind of got it around pretty well.
“And then the same thing on Friday; I played good enough to shoot a good score. You’ve got to hole putts if you want to play well, and I did not do that. I had four three-putts on Friday and missed the cut by a couple. Hit it in the water on 15, felt like I hit a really good shot there.
“You take those away and I’m right in the mix starting the weekend.”
Johnson has worked on his setup – he said it was a little funky at Augusta – and his speed on the greens since arriving at Harbour Town.
“I got it fixed,” he said. “It’s better, feels better, a lot more comfortable. I put in some work, but that was kind of the big issue last week. Other than that, I feel like the game is in pretty good form.”
And he feels like he’s in the ideal place to turn around his non-Dustin Johnson like form of late. Since he returned from the Middle East after winning the Saudi International in February, the reigning FedEx Cup champion has just one top-10 in five starts, his missed cut in the Masters and three finishes outside the top 25.
At Harbour Town, he’s finished in ties for 16th, 17th and 28th the last three years.
“I love playing this event,” he said. “I think it’s a great golf course. It’s always in good shape, and it’s a tough course, too, so you know you don’t have to shoot real low, which I like.
“You use every club in your bag. You’ve got to hit all different types of shots. You’ve got to shape it around here. It’s treelined. You just really have to golf your ball. Small greens. You hit a lot of greens you’re going to play well.”
If you putt well on them, that is.
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