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Johnson plugs away at PGA with no thought to recent past

by | Special to CBSSports.com
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SHEBOYGAN, Wis. -- It's been two months and Dustin Johnson still keeps fielding the same question about his final-round implosion at the U.S. Open. How long did it take you to get over Pebble Beach?

"Not very long," he insists.

Those are certainly three words nobody has ever associated with the bomber from Myrtle Beach. But people need to start realizing that the shortest thing about Dustin Johnson is his memory. With him once again in the thick of it at a third straight major, the 82 that blew his big lead at Pebble Beach is ancient history.

"That's my personality," he said of a career hiccup he got over the next day. "I don't look too much behind me. I look forward. Dwelling on it can't help anything."

If Johnson didn't prove that by climbing into contention at the British Open last month (he tied for 14th after a double bogey-bogey finish cost him a spot as low American), he's proving it this week on yet another seaside golf course. By tearing down the par-5s at Whistling Straits to size, he sits at 5 under and tied for third among those in the clubhouse.

Forget about the U.S. Open, already. He's got another major he's trying to win.

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"It was kind of a fluke thing or whatever you want to call it," Johnson said of the early triple-double-bogey stretch that eviscerated this three-shot lead on Graeme McDowell and sent him spiraling to a ninth-place finish. "I just played bad. Golfers have bad rounds of golf. So, no, I got this tournament to look at and I always try to focus on what I'm doing at the time and not what I did in the past."

Don't believe that the experience has tempered Johnson's way at all. He still attacks golf courses with power and abandon that some might call reckless. To him it's as normal as breathing.

Through two rounds amid the stops and starts at Whistling Straits, Johnson has hit only hit 13 of 28 fairways yet played the par-5s in 6 under.

"I've never hit any, like, terrible golf shots," he said of his performance so far. "But you know, to my standards, I haven't hit any really good golf shots, either."

Johnson still seems to be feeling his way around a golf course that he wasn't so sure about when he arrived in Wisconsin.

"The first time you walk out here, you say, 'Where the hell do you hit the golf ball?'" he said.

Not where normal golfers do, that's for sure. Johnson has a whole different set of lines off the tee than most of his peers. Take the way he turned the 598-yard fifth hole, called Snake, into a pitch-and-putt on Friday. He saw Bubba Watson take an aggressive line across all sorts of watery mess the day before and thought, "If he can do it, so can I."

'I don't look too much behind me. I look forward,' Dustin Johnson says. (Getty Images)  
'I don't look too much behind me. I look forward,' Dustin Johnson says. (Getty Images)  
So Johnson unloaded his drive on a line Pete Dye never envisioned and left himself 149 yards to the hole, hit his wedge to 30 feet and drained the putt for eagle.

"I hit it way right," he said. "I like it. I think it's great. It fits me perfect."

On the par-4 sixth hole, which measured 315 yards on Friday, Johnson sailed the green with a driver that carried about 335 yards and had to settle for par.

"I didn't expect it to go that far," he said. "Kind of it went a little too far."

We can't relate. Then on the par-3 seventh that played downwind 200 to the flag, Johnson sailed his 9-iron 220 yards over the green and took bogey.

"It's just really hard for me to be back at 200 yards and say it's a 9-iron," he said. "I just can't do it."

Ditto. But at least he knows his limitations. But the funny thing about Johnson is that the power game is only a means to his short game, which like John Daly years ago is an incongruous strength. What keeps that fresh is playing a lot of practice-round money matches with Phil Mickelson, one of the best short-game artists ever.

"I play with Phil a lot, and if you don't get up and down you lose," he laughed.

His combination of strength and touch, along with his ability to put the horrific stuff behind him, could make him an obvious choice for the Ryder Cup. Johnson got knocked out of the top eight last week by Hunter Mahan but still sits ninth and one spot ahead of Tiger Woods in the standings. The top eight are assured spots on Sunday night.

"I definitely would like to make it in the top eight, earn my way on the team without a captain's pick," the former Walker Cup player said. "My golf will take care of that. So I can't worry about it. All I can do is focus on my golf, and if I play well, I'll be on there."

Scott Michaux is the columnist and golf writer for the Augusta Chronicle.

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