Dustin Johnson returns to a course that feels like Augusta
WILMINGTON, North Carolina (AP) Dustin Johnson was walking the expansive, manicured fairways where the sun filtered through the towering pines. On his first day back to work, it was a reminder of what he missed. This wasn’t Augusta National. It was Eagle Point, the beautiful replacement course for the Wells Fargo Championship.
And that wasn’t the only reminder.
”I’m not sure I need 30 mph wind in my first tournament back,” Johnson said, referring to the forecast for the opening round Thursday. Someone mentioned that at least would give him a taste of what he was missing the first round of the Masters when he had to withdraw.
His back no longer is sore.
The Masters can still be a bit of a sore subject, though. Johnson is not the first No. 1 player who had to miss a major, but none of the others ever withdrew so abruptly (minutes before his tee time) while at the top of his game (three straight victories against the strongest fields of the year) by slipping down the stairs.
A month later, Johnson is ready to go.
His return will take some of the attention away from Eagle Point, a Tom Fazio design with severely undulating putting surfaces that are pure, firm and fast. Eagle Point has drawn comparisons with Augusta National, not because of the design of any hole, rather because of the tranquil beauty.
Adam Scott was asked about the similarities. He smiled and said, ”It’s green.”
The Wells Fargo Championship has been at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte since it began in 2003, but the club got its wish by hosting a major (PGA Championship) this summer, so Eagle Point is filling in.
The LPGA Tour is trying something old in a new place by changing the Lorena Ochoa Invitational to the Lorena Ochoa Match Play in Mexico City. The previous Match Play events in women’s golf were in New Jersey and New York.
The PGA Tour Champions is in Houston, where a year ago John Daly made his debut in the 50-and-older circuit and still doesn’t have a top 10. Europe, meanwhile, is trying its second radical format of the year by playing something called ”Golfsixes” in England. It involves six-hole matches to make the action go quickly, and it won’t take long for fans to realize it hasn’t attracted anyone from the top 60 in the world.
James Hahn is the defending champion of the tournament, but not the course. He won last year at Quail Hollow in a playoff over Roberto Castro.
Hahn won’t get a chance to defend his title at the golf course until the PGA Championship.
The change of courses for the year has raised questions where it has affected the field, with Dustin Johnson as the only player from the top 10 in the world. For years, Quail Hollow had one of the strongest fields of the spring among regular tour events, and a strong list of winners that includes Tiger Woods in 2007. It also provided the first PGA Tour victory for Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Anthony Kim (remember him?).
The focus this week, however, is on Johnson.
He has not played since winning the Dell Technologies Match Play with a 1-up victory over Jon Rahm on March 26. Then again, the last time he played a tournament without winning was on Feb. 12 when Jordan Spieth won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Johnson finished third, five shots behind.
For all that Lorena Ochoa has done for the LPGA Tour, it felt like a slight when her tournament in November couldn’t attract top players. Most had been skipping it because it fell between the Asian swing and season-ender in Florida.
So the LPGA moved it to May and changed the format to match play.
That doesn’t mean everyone is playing. So Yeon Ryu, who won her second major at the ANA Inspiration, would have had a chance to go to No. 1 in the world, except that she is taking this week off.
As for the format, the LPGA had match play from 2005 to 2007 (HSBC Women’s Match Play) and then from 2010 to 2012 (Sybase Match Play. The most recent winner was Azahara Munoz of Spain.