By Doug Ferguson
AP Golf Writer
SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — Dustin Johnson apparently had high expectations after winning his first major at the U.S. Open.
He didn’t win the next major at Royal Troon and got rid of his beard.
“I finished ninth at the British, so I shaved it,” Johnson said Wednesday, the big smile indicating he went with a clean look for no specific reason.
He’d like to leave the PGA Championship with a new ranking — No. 1.
While his back-to-back victories at the U.S. Open and the World Golf Championship at Firestone rightly get most of the attention, it’s easy to overlook that he has been playing better than anyone all year.
He has finished out of the top 10 only five times in his 16 starts this year, including his last six tournaments. With a tie for second last week at the Canadian Open, the 32-year-old Johnson arrived at Baltusrol with a mathematical chance to replace Jason Day at No. 1 in the world.
Johnson would have to win the PGA Championship and have Day finish third or worse, or he could be the sole runner-up and reach No. 1 if Day were to finish 28th. However you do the math, it’s a possibility.
And typical of Johnson, he won’t give it much of a thought.
“It won’t be on my mind,” he said. “I’m going to go out and try to focus on what I’ve got to do. The rest of the stuff, I try not to worry about — or actually I don’t worry about. I just go out and play golf and try to shoot the best score I can. At the end of the week, if I’m on top of the leaderboard and I get to No. 1, obviously that would be great and be a big accomplishment.”
He was the betting favorite going into the final major of the year, mainly because of his consistently great play, and because Baltusrol is a big golf course at 7,462 yards for a par 70. And that’s right up his power alley.
As for the majors, Johnson is starting to set himself apart.
Dating to a missed cut in the 2014 Masters, he has seven top 10s in his last nine majors, including his U.S. Open title at Oakmont.
“I feel like it keeps me mentally in it longer,” Johnson said of the majors. “When I’m on really tough golf courses, I feel like I’m more focused because I’m really trying to hit the ball to a certain spot, instead of a lot of times when I struggle sometimes it’s just staying mentally focused on every shot.”
What sets the Lower Course at Baltusrol apart for the PGA Championship is that the A.W. Tillinghast design doesn’t have a par 5 until the 17th hole, and then it ends with a pair of par 5s. That would seem to be disadvantage for Johnson, whose length can lead to easy birdies on par 5s.
Or maybe not.
“This golf course, I hit a lot of drivers,” he said. “It’s par 70, but it’s quite long. I feel like I wear out my 8- and 9-irons on the par 4s.”
Long course. And 8-irons and 9-irons into the par 4s.
That’s his game.
One of the par 5s might not be reachable, anyway. The 649-yard 17th hole is the second-longest in PGA Championship history behind the 653-yard fifth hole at Southern Hills. John Daly was the first player to hit the green in two, using a 1-iron in the 1993 U.S. Open.
But with nearly two inches of rain on Monday night, and more storms in the forecast, the course is too soft to have a reasonable chance, even for Johnson. He hammered a drive during his first practice round and still had 320 yards to the hole.
Then again, his wedge play has been the reason he has risen to the elite in golf, why he is one big win away from reaching the top. And finally getting his first major did little to make him satisfied.
“I want to win every major,” he said. “Maybe even more of a desire to get a second one.”