Embattled PGA star Dustin Johnson has returned to the golf course this season after a six-month absence amid controversial rumors about his personal life, and the results on the course have been impressive.
Johnson has played in three 2015 events and has made the top five twice. He is fresh off a second-place finish at the Northern Trust Open on Sunday at Riviera Country Club. The hot start to the season comes after a six-month break from the game because of personal struggles. The move was perhaps a preemptive measure taken before a drug-related suspension, according to golf.com.
Rumors concerning Johnson’s personal life continue to swirl, the most recent (unproven) gossip concerning past extra-marital activities with a wife of a PGA pro. The controversy stemmed from Twitter rumors that wouldn't quit. Johnson, who is married to hockey legend Wayne Gretzky's socialite daughter Paulina Gretzky, may not be able to escape the never-ending cycle talk surrounding his social life.
Johnson’s game, however, has turned around and his performance may be returning to the form that made him a perennial contender and an eight-time winner on tour. The 30-year-old has amazing length off the tee and keeps himself in contention by dominating the long holes. In three tournaments Johnson is -17 on par 5s. He is -4 on par 4s and -2 on par 3s. He leads the PGA in driving distance with a 315.5-yard average and clearly thrives when he can gain a big advantage off the tee. It’s exciting to see Johnson crush drives once again, after his career was in serious doubt.
The second-place finish for Johnson came with perhaps a bit of disappointment. He fell to James Hahn in the third playoff of the Northern Trust Open. Johnson did show off perhaps an improved short game in the playoff however. After ending up in a bad position on the 10th hole, he hit a beautiful flop-shot from the around the green. The shot set up a birdie and an extended playoff. If Johnson is better with a wedge in his hand, he will be really hard to beat.
Johnson has the raw ability and talent to compete for a win in any tournament. If his mind is centered and his focus regained, as he says, then he will have a chance at contention every weekend. With Tiger Woods out, and a lot of the young stars still relatively inexperienced, there is a void to be filled near the top of the game.
Johnson, while experienced and a perennial contender, is still without a major championship title. He could be a player to watch for at the Masters, which starts on April 9.