Austin, Texas — Just over a year ago, Dustin Johnson headed to the range at Riviera in the rain to begin work on his wedges, the one area of his game that has contributed the most to his No. 1 ranking.
He talks all the time about the improvement with his short clubs. He also showed at Austin Country Club how much he trusts them.
The par-4 13th hole over the water was easily reachable for him with a driver, and that’s what Jon Rahm did in the final of the Dell Technologies Match Play that sparked his rally. Johnson never hit driver one time all week. Not this year. Not even last year.
Alex Noren squared their quarterfinal match on the 12th, and then hit driver to the throat of the green, 60 feet from the flag. Johnson still went with iron off the tee, hit a wedge to 10 feet and made birdie. Noren missed from 7 feet, and Johnson was on his way.
“It just doesn’t ever work out well,” Johnson said. “For me, if I hit a great shot it’s going to land on the green and go over the back. And it’s just a really hard up-and-down. I feel like I’ve got a better chance wedging it from the fairway.”
Johnson said the last time he tried to drive the 13th green was in a practice round in 2016.
“After that … there’s just no reason,” he said. “So ever since then, I’ve laid up every time.”
Perhaps it’s no wonder that when asked if he were more proud of his power off the tee or his precision with the short clubs, Johnson chose the wedges.
That doesn’t mean he’s perfect with them.
In the semifinals against Hideto Tanihara, he came up short of the green with a wedge on the 13th, 15th and 18th holes (he also stuffed one to 6 feet on the par-3 17th, the money shot, when the match was all square).
“I’m going to keep working on them,” Johnson said. “You can’t be too good with one.”
Nick Faldo has seen tee shots into Rae’s Creek on the 12th hole at Augusta National — Greg Norman in 1996 comes to mind.
What amazed him about Jordan Spieth making triple bogey last year in the Masters is why he didn’t go back to the tee. Spieth, like many others, chose to drop short in the expanse of grass short of the creek and hit that fat and into the water.
“It’s not a ball drop. You just find your own angle,” Faldo said. “You’ve never practiced it. It’s a really weird place to be. And the depth perception is horribly difficult because all you see is creek, bank and the green is just a sliver. There’s no depth perception, and then you see two bunkers in the back.”
Gary Woodland says he withdrew from the Dell Technologies Match Play because his wife had complications with her pregnancy that resulted in the loss of one of their twins.
Woodland had won his opening match last week before he withdrew for what was described as a personal family matter. He said Wednesday on Twitter that he and his wife, Gabby, are coping with the loss of one of their twins. He says doctors will be closely monitoring his wife and the surviving twin for the remainder of her pregnancy.
Woodland said at this point he still plans to play the Masters next week.