Underestimate Dustin Johnson at your own peril

Dustin Johnson is underestimated.

A funny thing to say for the No. 1 player in the world, who arrives at the Masters as a favorite after winning his last three events. But it’s true.

For a long time, the perception of Johnson was that he was little more than a bomber, his game depending heavily on his physical ability and not so much the mental side of it. Put him on courses where length carried the day, and you’d find him near the top of the leaderboard. But if his short game came into play, or his putting, he’d inevitably fade.

Over the last year, however, Johnson has flipped that script. And his newfound ability to think his way around a golf course might be the biggest revelation at Augusta National this year.

“He’s very underrated in that department. There is a cerebral element to what Dustin Johnson does,” Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee said last week during a teleconference to preview the Masters.

“I think there’s an ability for him to take a look at the lay of the land and immediately imagine the shot that’s required to fit whatever hole location, and then be able to make the changes in his golf swing just immediately to sort of fit the lay of the land,” Chamblee continued. “And that’s an athletic genius that is really underrated.

“He may not be able to articulate that to the degree that everybody wants him to, but I think athletically, he’s got a gift.”

That Johnson was physically gifted was never a question. “Kind of a freak of nature,” Rickie Fowler called him Monday. He got his first victory in 2008, his first full year on tour, and has won at least one event every year since.

He’s finished in the top 15 of the FedExCup standings all but one year since 2009. The exception came in 2014, when he missed the last half of the year while taking a leave of absence to resolve personal issues.

Despite that, until last year, Johnson was more known for his flameouts than his successes. The leave of absence, obviously. Then there were his debacles at the majors.

He coughed up both the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship in 2010, gagging away his three-stroke lead after 54 holes at Pebble Beach by going triple bogey-double bogey-bogey on Nos. 2-4 and then grounding his club in a hazard area on the 72nd hole at Whistling Straits.

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