<
>

Quick 9: DJ focused on positives heading into PGA Championship

1. Timing is everything

He has three victories this year, including two World Golf Championship titles. He is still a comfortable No. 1 in the world.

So why does it seem that Dustin Johnson is a bit of a forgotten man heading into the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow?

The long-hitting 15-time PGA Tour champion has just two top-10s since winning three straight tournaments earlier this year. He missed consecutive cuts at the Memorial and U.S. Open and shot a final-round 79 at The Open.

He did tie for eighth at the Canadian Open, but then shot 75 during the second round of the WGC-Bridgestone.

And to think, he was the heavy favorite heading into the Masters, only to be derailed by a freak back injury when he slipped on stairs the day prior to the tournament.

"Obviously it's really frustrating, but things happen,'' Johnson said. "You've just got to deal with them. I feel like the golf game's in really good shape right now. I played really good on Sunday (a final-round 66). Had a good practice session [at the PGA]. Feel like I'm driving it really well again.

"Yeah, 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.''

2. Plenty to play for

Johnson is still in the running for PGA Tour Player of the Year -- his three victories include two World Golf Championship events. Jordan Spieth's three wins include a major -- but DJ has slipped behind Spieth in the FedEx Cup standings. The volatility of the FedEx Cup gives Johnson plenty of opportunity to win the season-long trophy and obviously this week's PGA Championship presents a huge chance to again change the narrative of this season back to him.

"I feel I've got a lot of confidence in the game right now and what I'm doing,'' Johnson said. "It's close to being as good as I've been in a long time.''

3. WGC dominance

The past five World Golf Championship events have been won by two players -- Johnson and Hideki Matsuyama.

Johnson won the 2016 Bridgestone Invitational and Matsuyama captured the HSBC Champions in China. Then Johnson won the Mexico Championship followed by the Dell Match Play Championship. Now Matsuyama has the latest victory at the Bridgestone.

4. Schedule changes

The PGA's decision to move to May will have a huge impact on the golf landscape.

And Jack Nicklaus seemed to have it all in perspective, noting that it keeps his Memorial Tournament in a strong position.

5. An offseason?

Golf could use an offseason, not just for the players but for fans who never have a chance to miss the sport. Once the PGA Tour season ends at the Tour Championship next month, the 2017-18 season begins two weeks later. Events run up to Thanksgiving before a holiday break and then resume again in January.

Because FedEx Cup points are at stake in those fall events, there is incentive for players to compete -- and they would prefer to get a break and not see their peers get an advantage.

The move of the PGA Championship to May, which will allow the FedEx Cup playoffs to end earlier, offered up this opportunity. After the playoffs conclude, why not take a month before starting the new season?

For now, at least, it seems that won't be the case. "I don't expect that to change,'' said PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan.

And yet, the tour's move to an earlier finish is to avoid playing golf in September against football. But that is exactly what those events in the new season will face.

"I think it works very well for our product, and candidly, as a sport, a true international sport, being on all the time and showcasing the world's best players over that period of time, we think is very helpful,'' Monahan said.

6. Hideki's dominance

Matsuyama cruised through Firestone Country Club on Sunday on his way to matching the course record of 61 previously shot by Jose Maria Olazabal, Tiger Woods (twice) and Sergio Garcia. He did it by hitting 16 greens in regulation, taking just 25 putts and making seven birdies and an eagle to shoot the lowest final round in World Golf Championship history.

And Thomas Pieters, who held a share of the third-round lead before finishing fourth -- 8 shots back -- was impressed.

7. And a shoutout from Gary Player

As he does every week, Gary Player took to Twitter to congratulate the winners around the world, including Matsuyama on his WGC victory.

8. Amen Corner's expansion

Augusta National's long-sought purchase of land from neighboring Augusta Country Club has been completed, giving the club more space to take care of the property's perimeter but also allowing for the intriguing possibility of lengthening the par-5 13th hole.

While changing the hole is a big deal, don't discount Augusta National's motives on simply having more land and privacy. At various times, gazing out onto Amen Corner also means seeing golf carts on the ninth hole at Augusta Country Club. Years ago an errant shot from the hole landed near the 12th green as Tiger Woods was about to putt. You can bet that part of the reason for the purchase -- perhaps the biggest part -- is so Augusta National can have the land and Augusta Country Club can't.

Obviously the club wants to have some options with the 13th hole, which measures just 510 yards and typically plays as the easiest on the course. Many times it is a mid-to-short-iron second shot in, and moving the tee back some days might force a few more decisions.

But the club would be wise to tread carefully. The hole still produces plenty of drama. Look at Sergio Garcia this year, making a remarkable par after hitting his drive left of the creek that spurred his run to the green jacket. In many ways, there is nothing wrong with the hole as it is.

9. Curry's sponsor invite

NBA star Steph Curry playing in last week's Web.com event generated plenty of discussion on whether he was deserving of such an exemption. Most of the naysayers don't understand the exemption policy and are unaware that this type of exemption is given every week to amateurs and club pros -- none of whom are trying to play competitive golf for a living.

But there is an argument to be made about eliminating such exemptions. If no unrestricted exemption were offered and the fields were filled strictly with Web.com Tour members, affiliate members and through open qualifying, then every spot in the field technically goes to a player who is trying to make his way on the tour and there is no controversy.

That, of course, misses the motivation behind such exemptions. To give somebody outside the realm a chance. To create interest. To market the tournament. All of which Curry did exceptionally well.