U.S. Open 2018: Dustin Johnson's latest collapse is all too familiar yet keeps us wanting more

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. -- Dustin Johnson is so damn talented, so overwhelmingly gifted, that a third-place finish in a major feels like a massive disappointment.

And given where he was on the leaderboard heading into the weekend (four strokes up on the field), there is no better word to describe his 2018 U.S. Open showing than this: disappointing. 

These types results, coming by way of a collapse, are fascinating in golf. The mental devil always at play is what makes the sport so intriguing and often unpredictable. Even when the No. 1-ranked player in the world has it clicking through 36 holes, there's always the chance disaster sprouts and spreads with a quickness.

Witness: Johnson's third-round 77 on Saturday. That round, one of his worst in a major, ensnared him amongst the pack and stymied his push for a second U.S. Open championship in three years. 

Now we wait and see if what happened here at Shinnecock Hills has the power to hover over Johnson in tournaments -- major and minor -- in the months to come. He's not an emotion-on-the-sleeve guy, and his history of success suggests that this year's U.S. Open won't linger as part of his narrative going forward.

But still, he's no longer a promising young player. Johnson is 33 and only has one major to his name, the 2016 U.S. Open. And this is the kind of loss that obviously is bothersome.

When asked if Johnson would be speaking to the media after his final-round 70, a USGA spokesman told CBS Sports that Johnson declined all interview requests.  

After two rounds, this tournament was his -- at least, it should have been. If you simulated the final 36 holes 10,000 times with Johnson holding a four-stroke lead, how often does he win the tournament? Fifty percent of the time? Maybe more? 

The sport's history is peppered with rewarding redemption stories, but Johnson's ability goes beyond something cute and compensatory. He's a power athlete: sleekly svelte, and at times, a dynamo with his irons. His appeal stems from how great he plays (better than anyone in the sport, it seems) when he's fully tapping into his powers. Shinnecock Hills, even with its highly criticized setup, was built for his skill set. 

He's great enough to overcome the most agonizing pin placements and desert-dry greens. 

With all that taken into account, Saturday's 77 goes down as one of Johnson's biggest blunders ever, even if there was carnage up and down the leaderboard. He had 38 putts on Saturday and 35 on Sunday, this after combining for 53 the first two days, which ranked among the top five in the field. 

It must have been just a little torturous for him to coolly sink a 13-footer for birdie on 18 to close out Sunday's final round and get to par for the day. Where was that the rest of the weekend? A few more of those makeable birdie putts earlier in the day, and Johnson's going chest-to-chest with Brooks Koepka for the U.S. Open trophy. 

Instead, Johnson mangled one of the biggest leads in major history. His four-stroke lead, and subsequent subsiding, matched Tom McNamara in 1909 for the biggest 36-hole lead giveaway in the event's history. McNamara managed to take second, whereas Johnson slipped to third.

Koepka pushed past Johnson in the majors ledger, too, now having won back-to-back U.S. Opens. He's only the seventh golfer to do that, second since 1951 and first since 1989.

The 33-year-old Johnson is brimming in his prime, but at this point, it's a surprise to see only one major championship attached to his name. Eight years ago, even knowing how fickle golf can be with its results in its most prestigious tournaments, conventional assumption was that Johnson would be a multi-major guy sooner than later. 

Why hasn't he done it? In so many respects, Johnson's abilities fit the modern game. He's hitting a ceiling, though. 

If Johnson's to play himself into being a great of this modern era, the 2018 U.S. Open can't spark the start of pattern. He's already had two career-affecting outcomes. First, the infamous 2010 PGA Championship, when he unknowingly grounded his club on 18 and took a triple bogey. Then, the triple putt on No. 18 at the 2015 U.S. Open when Johnson had opportunities to win from 12 feet and tie from 4 feet only to settle for a bogey and second-place finish to Jordan Spieth. Johnson moved past those gaffes in 2016 when he took the U.S. Open title. 

A second U.S. Open victory would have vaulted his status and locked down his No. 1 ranking, and it certainly would have erased memories of 2015.

Johnson is sitting on a fabulous 18 PGA Tour wins. (Koepka only has three total tour wins, two of them being majors!) You can't deny his resume, but you can critique it. I reject the idea of comparing individual sports to team sports, but Johnson's probably going to encounter some "narrative" talk if he keeps being so damn good without getting a second title. Mentally, he seems equipped to embrace it, and yet, this keeps happening. 

There's a burden that comes with being great, and Johnson's probably going to carry that around until he gets another major. It should happen soon, but of course, it should have happened already.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning senior writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his ninth season reporting on college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics... Full Bio

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