Having finally broken through for a first major title at the 2016 US Open, Johnson had gone from strength to strength, winning three straight tournaments and seizing the world number one ranking before arriving at Augusta National.
“I was about as confident as I’ve ever been,” Johnson says.
But he never made it to the first tee last year, after a mis-step on the stairs at his rented house in Augusta left him with a badly bruised back on the eve of the tournament.
This year, Johnson quipped in his deadpan style, his plan for Wednesday was to “take it really easy”.
But he admitted that having to sit out the first major of 2017 added an extra edge to his anticipation this week.
“Obviously I was playing very well, and it was very disappointing not to be able to play,” Johnson said. “This year’s a completely different year, and I’m really looking forward to coming into this year – especially missing last year.”
Johnson, 33, is still perched atop the world rankings – although Justin Thomas leads a trio of players who could supplant him this week.
He opened 2018 with a victory in the US PGA Tournament of Champions and finished tied for second at Pebble Beach, but he hasn’t been the juggernaut of 2017.
Nevertheless, Johnson says his confidence level remains high – a 9 1/2, perhaps, compared to 10 on a scale of 10 last year.
“Starting to swing it a lot better,” Johnson said. “Feeling a lot better on the golf course, for sure.”
A native of nearby Columbia, South Carolina, Johnson remembers watching the Masters as a boy. Now, he believes, he has the major championship know-how and enough experience of the Augusta National course to challenge for the green jacket.
“The more you play here, the more comfortable you get around this golf course,” said Johnson, who notched top-10 finishes in 2015 and 2016. “You know what tee shots and where to hit it and the flags and kind of how to attack the golf course.
“Then, I think just me as a golfer getting better throughout the whole game, just having more confidence, hitting it better, driving it better, doing everything a little bit better always helps around here.”
Bubba Watson will head to Augusta National as a strong contender for a third Masters title after thrashing Kevin Kisner 7&6 to win the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.
After preventing Justin Thomas becoming world number one with a 3&2 victory over the US PGA champion in the semi-finals, Watson took ruthless advantage of a poor performance from Kisner to cruise to a second World Golf Championships title.
Kisner looked to be feeling the effects of needing 19 holes to beat Alex Noren in the other semi-final and bogeyed four holes in succession at Austin Country Club after Watson won the first with a birdie.
It took Watson missing from four feet for birdie on the sixth to stop the rot and until the 11th for Kisner to win a hole with a long-range birdie, but Watson’s birdie on the par-five 12th secured a comprehensive success.
Watson, who won the Masters in 2010 and 2012, told the Golf Channel: “It was one of those things. I got off to a hot start and just focused on golf.
“There were about four or five shots for the week where I wasn’t committed and kind of blanked out so that’s pretty good over 100 and something holes.”
What a performance!
— WGC-Dell Match Play (@DellMatchPlay) March 25, 2018
Thomas admitted the chance to become world number one had played heavily on his mind during his semi-final defeat to Watson.
With defending champion Dustin Johnson crashing out in the group stages, Thomas needed to reach the final to end Johnson’s 58-week reign and become the 21st number one since rankings began in 1986.
However, Watson fired two birdies and an eagle in the first six holes and although Thomas battled back to one down at the turn, Watson birdied the 10th and was gifted the 12th when Thomas found water with his approach.
“I haven’t had such a hard time not thinking about something so much,” Thomas said in quotes reported by the Golf Channel. “And that really sucked.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about it, to be perfectly honest. And I think you’re constantly getting questions about it with the media. But I need to be mentally stronger than that, and understand that it’s just a match.”
India’s young golfing sensation Shubhankar Sharma on Friday fired a course record of eight-under 64 to stay within touching distance of clubhouse leader Emiliano Grillo on the second day of the Indian Open.
Argentina’s Grillo, who scored four-under 68 after his course-record equalling 65 in the opening round at the DLF golf and Country Club in Gurgaon, remains top of the leaderboard.
21-year-old Sharma said he was pleased with his performance on Friday, which leaves him four shots off the lead in sole second place at seven-under for the tournament.
“This is a tough course and it is not easy to go low here. I am very happy with the way I played,” he said in a statement.
“Today’s round will definitely rank up there as one of my most significant achievements, especially when it is played at this course,” Sharma added.
Home favourite Sharma had an ordinary start on Thursday after shooting one-over at the Gurgaon course, considered among the toughest on the Asian and European tour.
🚨 NEW COURSE RECORD 🚨
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) March 9, 2018
“If you told me I would be seven-under-par going into the weekend after being five-over-par on my opening nine holes yesterday, I would just have laughed,” he said.
Sharma has shot up the world golf rankings after a stellar few months, with wins at the European Tour’s Joburg Open in December and Maybank Championship this February, and a strong showing at the WGC-Mexico Championships last weekend.
Spain’s Pablo Larrazabal scored a one-under 71 and was tied for third spot with English golfer Andrew Johnston, who hit six-under 66 for a total of 138.
Nine of the total 144 golfers were not able to finish their second round on Friday because of fading light.
Provided by AFP Sport