At a place where he's had memorable history, including victories in 2009 and 2010 and an epic meltdown at the 2010 U.S. Open, Dustin Johnson couldn't conjure any Pebble Beach magic on Sunday. He did, however, post his best finish of the season (T5) and see progress on the greens.
Earlier in the week, Johnson, who had knee surgery in the off-season, expressed frustration with his putting and his results in his previous three starts in 2012. He withdrew from the Humana Challenge with back pain, tied for 43rd at Torrey Pines and tied for 61st in Scottsdale.
It's no secret the 27-year-old from South Carolina walks fast and plays fast, but in spite of the long rounds at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, he still relishes the beautiful ocean vistas and relaxed atmosphere.
"It's always special," he said after a two-under 70 in the final round. "Wish we played a little bit quicker, but other than that it's fantastic. But if you're going to be stuck out on a golf course for six hours, this is a place that's not so bad."
Last Tuesday at the driving range, Keith Sbarbaro, TaylorMade's vice president of tour operations and a good friend of Johnson's, helped him get dialed in with a new driver, the TaylorMade R11S. At the time, Johnson was still unsure which putter he would put in the bag, and he tinkered with several before ultimately going with a rendition of his old faithful Scotty Cameron.
He found his groove in the first round at Pebble Beach, firing a nine-under 63 to take a three-way share of the lead. He needed only 24 putts but had 32 on Friday and 33 on Saturday. He had just 25 putts on Sunday and was encouraged with his progress.
"I rolled it better," he said. "The first day I rolled it well, obviously. But I putted better today. I felt comfortable today with the putter, probably starting on the back side.
"I just have to trust it, that's all it is."
Johnson will play the Northern Trust Open this week and the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship next week. (He's skipping the Honda Classic even though he moved to the Palm Beach area around this time last year.)
Johnson's hopes to make a run Sunday and catch the eventual champion, Phil Mickelson, were thwarted after a double-bogey on the par-5 14th. He actually needed a good up-and-down for that 7, draining a seven-footer. Still, he was encouraged by his performance in the final round.
"It's been a while since I've made putts," he said. "This week, I said, screw it, trust it, and I started rolling it well, which is what I did the first day. I don't know why I didn't do it with the rest of them."