Three-time major winner Padraig Harrington believes there is only one player who can challenge Dustin Johnson at Augusta National next week. The Irishman spoke exclusively to radio station RTE, and delivered his verdict on on the upcoming US Masters, citing DJ as the red-hot favourite.
The 45-year-old, who has played in 15 Masters during his illustrious career, explained to RTE how Johnson can only be stopped by one man, if he brings his best game to the season’s first major next week:
“Rory is the second favourite. At the end of the day, DJ is playing the golf of his life at the moment, he’s peaked, he’s really on form. There are a number of great players in the game at the moment, but I get the feeling that they are all looking over their shoulder and looking at other players, worried about other players.
With the way DJ is playing, Rory is going to be under pressure to bring his ‘A’ game and that’s tough enough. DJ doesn’t think very much, I don’t think DJ looks over his shoulder. I don’t think he worries at all. DJ is the most likely one to play his game next week, and if he does turn up and perform, he’ll be the winner. Rory is the only one capable of beating him at this very moment.”
With Jason Day’s ongoing personal problems, Jordan Spieth’s struggles to hit the heights of the last two years, and Rory McIlroy’s injury concerns, the world number one has dominated the 2017 season thus far, taking a stranglehold on the world of golf with a succession of dominating displays. The 32-year-old has been in such awesome form over the past 12 months, that the rest of the field who come up against him on a weekly basis must be starting to doubt whether they can actually beat him, even if they are on peak form.
Spieth himself told reporters this week how it is vitally important to maintain the belief that Johnson is, in fact, beatable. The 23-year-old Dallas native was quoted as saying:
“The way to do it is to not get caught up in his game. The thing that’s difficult about beating Dustin Johnson is, you get on the tee and by the time you’re hitting your second shot you’re already at a disadvantage on the hole. It’s trying not to feel that way and trying to recognise that you add them up at the end. There’s a lot of ways to do it. If you feel like you’re disadvantaged every hole, even though you are percentage-wise when you both hit a good tee shot, you’re probably not going to have a chance to beat him.”
The world number six has obviously experienced a lot of success at Augusta national, but has equally had to deal with plenty of heartache, including last year’s collapse on the 12th hole in the final round.
McIlroy himself knows all about experiencing heartache at the Masters. In 2011 he entered the final round holding a four shot lead, only to lose by 10 shots to eventual winner Charl Schwartzel. He has the added pressure of trying to complete the career grand slam, which makes the already incredibly difficult task of winning a green jacket even harder for the Northern Irishman.
There have been suggestions that the only way to beat DJ is to get inside his head. But the manner in which the laid-back South Carolina native goes about his business contradicts that notion. His stats haven’t dramatically improved over the past five years, as shown here, which lends itself to the theory that Johnson has made marginal gains in the mental department. And that seriously is bad news for his competitors.
There is nothing the golfing world would like to see more than the likes of Johnson, McIlroy and Spieth slug it out down the stretch at the Masters on Sunday afternoon. And if that does come to fruition, maybe then Johnson’s mental strength will be tested to the limit.
He won’t be the only one facing psychological challenges, however, with Spieth’s memories of the 12th hole meltdown still fresh in his mind, and McIlroy trying to join the elite list of five names who have won all four Major Championships, by winning his first green jacket.
Only the strongest, physically and mentally will survive.