Top-ranked Dustin Johnson says he feels almost as good at the PGA Championship as he did the last time he showed up at a major one hour's drive from his hometown.
And maybe this time he'll actually get to play.
The 2016 US Open winner is playing this week at Quail Hollow, north of his hometown of Columbia, South Carolina. The same distance to the south is Augusta, Georgia, where Johnson was a huge favorite in April until a fall on the eve of the Masters forced him to withdraw with a back injury.
"I was playing as good as I've ever played and consistently every day," Johnson said. "I was as good as I ever felt and confidence probably as high as it has ever been.
"But things happen. Just when you feel like you get on top, something happens that knocks you down. But I'm fighting back and I feel like the game is as good as it was before then.
"It has finally coming back into form. I felt like I got some things worked out in the swing that were just holding me back a little bit. My body feels great. I'm looking for a really good week this week."
Johnson, 33, had won three events in a row going into the Masters, becoming world number one after taking Riviera and adding World Golf Championships Mexico and Match Play titles.
Then came his stumble down a small set of stairs at a rental home in Augusta. His trip to the driving range before his late tee time turned into a reality television drama that ended with him walking to the tee, shaking hands with his scheduled playing partners and then walking away.
"I think I knew before I even went," said Johnson of his Augusta practice swings. "I was just trying my hardest because I wanted to play so badly."
"It is frustrating what happened when I was playing so well, but there's nothing I can do about that. Things happen, and so now I've just got to fight and practice and work hard to get back to where I was. I'm driving it really well again."
Asked for a number grade, Johnson said he was a 3 when he returned in May.
"It wasn't that good, but then it went down and got worse after that," Johnson said. "But I feel like I'm about an 8 1/2 right now.
"I'm going to continue to work hard on it and hopefully we're going to have a good week. I'll be there on Sunday."
Johnson has battled back before, overcoming the heartache of a penalty for grounding his club in an ill-marked sand hazard that cost him the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits to win a major last year.
He says he isn't owed a PGA Championship.
"I don't think it owes me one," he said. "It was my fault. I grounded a club in what they still say is a bunker."
© 2017 AFP