One year after his bunker blunder, Dustin Johnson eyes his first major title

Dustin Johnson is looking for his first major title this week at Atlanta Athletic Club.
David J. Phillip/AP

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — It’s been one year since Dustin Johnson suffered one of the most crushing final-hole penalties in major championship history. But don’t expect him to sulk about it.

Don’t expect him to read a rules sheet, either.

Clinging to a one-shot lead at the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, Johnson illegally and unknowingly grounded his club in a scruffy fairway bunker on the 72nd hole. He was popped with a two-shot penalty when he completed the hole, and the gaffe cost him a spot in the Bubba Watson-Martin Kaymer playoff, which Kaymer eventually won. Johnson told reporters here Wednesday afternoon that despite that expensive mistake, he still doesn’t read the rules sheet that’s provided to all players when they first arrive at a course for an event.

“No, I’ve never looked at one and probably never will,” he said with a laugh. “I know the rules.”

Johnson, who tees off Thursday with Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia at 1:25 p.m , said he never got too angry at the ruling and blames himself for the mistake. He’s also never watched a video replay of that final hole, but said he’s still often reminded of it.

“I’ve just seen the pictures,” he said. “It seems like all the pictures that people want me to sign are me hitting that shot. It’s like, ‘Thank you.'”

Johnson, and the room, cracked up. The pro also added that he doesn’t expect identifying bunkers here at Atlanta Athletic Club to be a problem.

“Here the bunkers are all defined — it’s not going to be an issue.”

In addition to last year’s PGA, Johnson has been in contention in other majors. At the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, he took a three-shot lead into the final round before detonating with an 82 , and Graeme McDowell took the title. Last month at the British Open, Johnson’s weekend surge was halted when he pushed a long iron O.B. on the 14th hole on Sunday and finished tied for second with Phil Mickelson.

Couple those results with “Bunkergate,” and it’s a troubling trend. Still, Johnson is upbeat this week, and said that he has taken some positives away from the near-misses.

“I’ve played well in the final rounds of the last two majors where I’ve really been in contention,” he said. “There’s one shot here or one shot there and I’ve probably got a victory. You know, just got to keep working on it and putting myself in position to win.”

Johnson played a relaxed nine holes Wednesday alongside Cameron Tringale . On Tuesday, the entertainment value — and the stakes — were higher when D.J. partnered with Steve Marino and took on Phil Mickelson and Jeff Overton in a money game. He said the practice-round competitions aren’t just about the cash, but an opportunity to hone his game for tournament play.

“We have a lot of fun. That’s the main thing when we’re out there playing,” he said. “It helps you, especially on Tuesday, to put a little pressure on yourself when you know you need to hit a good shot or you need to make a putt, to kind of see where your game is at, to see what’s going on.

“But I enjoy playing with Phil. You know, we talk smack to each other, it’s fun.”

And which team won Tuesday’s match?

“We pushed,” Johnson said with a smile.

To win his first career major this week, he’ll need to be one shot better.