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DJ Returns to Competition


Out of action since March 11 due to a back injury, Dustin Johnson has some catching up to do. Because of his ailments the 27-year-old South Carolinian has been able to play only seven events this season. And although he's logged three top-10 finishes and earned $735,410, Johnson has slipped to 20th in the World Golf Ranking. The inactivity has also caused him to fall to 24th in the points' race for a cherished spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team.

The lanky, long-hitting player marks his return to competition in the $6.2 million Memorial Tournament, which starts Thursday at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio.

Johnson isn't sure what to expect after such a long layoff. But during a session with reporters on Tuesday, the five-time Tour winner has high hopes for this week. "We'll see after Thursday," he responded to a question about the state of his game.

"But I'm expecting to play well. I've had a couple weeks of practice and good work, so the golf game is there. I'm swinging well. Short game is pretty good, it just all depends on the putter, really. If I putt well I'm going to play well."

Here's what else Johnson had to tell the media following a practice round at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Muirfield Village course.

MODERATOR: We want to welcome Dustin Johnson here to the interview room at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance. Dustin is coming back off of a back injury, having not played since March at the Cadillac Championship.

DUSTIN JOHNSON: Doral.

MODERATOR: Some opening comments on getting back into tournament play.

DUSTIN JOHNSON: Well, obviously I'm excited to be back. It's been a long time. It's definitely been a long time. I forgot to pack some stuff. Wasn't quite in the routine. But getting back out here on the golf course feels great. I'm excited to start playing again, and the game is starting to come around.

MODERATOR: A fourth-place finish here last year. Talk about this tournament specifically and the course in general.

DUSTIN JOHNSON: It's a great golf tournament. Jack does a great job. He treats players really well. The course is always in fantastic shape. It's always good to putt on good greens. The greens are always perfect here, so it's always nice. The golf course, it's just a good golf course. You've got to hit good shots around here.

Q. Did you choose to come back this week because of what you just said about the golf course, or is this the first time on your rehab schedule that it permitted it?

DUSTIN JOHNSON: Yeah, a little bit of both. You know, I enjoy playing this tournament. I really like this golf course, so - and then I need to get some reps in, too, before the U.S. Open. So this was kind of - it was either kind of last week or this week, and I don't really play Colonial that much. It's not really a golf course that really suits my game. You know, this week was definitely a good week for me to come back. I'm going to play next week, too, in Memphis.

Q. I believe you had a statement to the effect that the rust is coming off in chunks during the rehab. With the particular injury that you had, what came back sooner and what took longer to come back?

DUSTIN JOHNSON: Well, I really couldn't do anything for, I don't know, five weeks. I really didn't touch a club for five, six weeks. It was kind of - it was pretty tough. I wasn't hitting it very good. I was hitting it okay. I'd go in spurts. I think the first time I played, I was like 6 or 7 under through eight holes and then I was even through like 12 holes. It was driver, just not driving the ball very much, because that was probably the last thing I got to work on really was the driver, so that was probably the thing that was the most sporadic.

Q. Just wondered if you could talk about the first time that you met Jack Nicklaus and what was going through your mind the first time that you met Jack.

DUSTIN JOHNSON: I think I was here, pretty sure. I think I said hello to him in the locker room. But the first time I saw him, I was like, I think that's Jack Nicklaus. I was kind of thinking to myself, should I go say hey to him, or should I not, and then I think he kind of stopped at our table and I stood up and introduced myself. But yeah, I was pretty nervous, actually.

Q. Can you take us through exactly how you injured yourself and when you knew it was bad and when you knew you weren't going to be able to play in the Masters?

DUSTIN JOHNSON: Well, I hurt my back I think it was on Friday or Saturday. I can't remember what I did yesterday, so it's kind of hard to remember exactly the day. But I hurt my back just pushing a jet ski. And then when I went to try to play golf the next day, that was when I knew it was injured badly and I was not going to be able to play.

Q. First of all, what did you forget to pack?

DUSTIN JOHNSON: Belts. I think that's the only thing I forgot. Yeah, all my belts.

Q. And during the time away, were you irritated, amused or a little bit of both about all these rumors circulating around as to why you were gone?

DUSTIN JOHNSON: I just laughed. I mean, it doesn't bother me. People talk all the time, so people make stuff up, especially when I'm not out here I guess they use their imagination a little too much.

Q. You just get back from one injury and you suffer - you're making progress and you suffer another injury. What has your mindset been like, and how frustrating has it been for you?

DUSTIN JOHNSON: It was definitely frustrating, because, you know, I had knee surgery and then I rehabbed that, and really, that went really well. And then to have a back injury was pretty frustrating. But I'm all healthy now and all good, and I'm ready to play golf.

Q. What have you learned from the last few months and these two injuries?

DUSTIN JOHNSON: I don't know, I mean, more or less you've just got to be kind of careful of stuff you're doing and just kind of pay attention to what you're doing, especially as I'm getting older (laughter), I need to pay a little more attention about activities that I'm doing.

Q. So many of the top guys winning. How much harder is it going to be to make the Ryder Cup team?

DUSTIN JOHNSON: I've just got to play well. If I play good golf from now until they pick us, I'll be on the team.

Q. If you could just talk about what it's like coming back now, are you kind of surprised how much has changed on the Tour? You've only been gone a month or two and you come back now and Jason Dufner is kind of ruling the Tour right now. Is it weird coming back and seeing all the stuff that went on while you were gone?

DUSTIN JOHNSON: Well, no, Duf has been playing some good golf since last year, so it's not surprising at all. He's been playing really well. It's good to see some other guys stepping up and playing well. I'm just excited to get back out here and play.

Q. Bubba has hopes of playing well. He doesn't quite know what to expect. How about with you, the way you've seen yourself be able to practice, and I'm not sure if you've had a round out here yet, but what are your expectations for this week?

DUSTIN JOHNSON: I don't know, we'll see after Thursday. But I'm expecting to play well. I've had a couple weeks of practice and good work, so the golf game is there. I'm swinging well. Short game is pretty good, it just all depends on the putter, really. If I putt well I'm going to play well.

Q. Has there ever been a par 5 that you physically could not reach?

DUSTIN JOHNSON: I don't know.

Q. No?

DUSTIN JOHNSON: Probably not. I mean, there's - I don't know. No, not that I can remember, unless it was into the wind.

Q. I'm not counting that. When you were at Olympic, did they have the new tee put in on 16?

DUSTIN JOHNSON: No. I played there in the U.S. Am, so no. But you still couldn't get there when I played because it was into the wind.

Q. What do you think of that, 670?

DUSTIN JOHNSON: I mean, all it really does is turn it into a short par 4. Everybody is going to be laying up and hitting from the same spot, so I don't really like it.

Q. You're one of the few guys who have seen Olympic within the last 14 years. What's your scouting report?

DUSTIN JOHNSON: I mean, it's tough. It's going to be tough, and during the Open, too. It played tough during the U.S. Am. I know they've made some changes, but I think it's a good course, but you're going to have to - I think they've made another change, they turned 1 into a par 4 instead of a par 5, which is going to be a good opening hole. And then I don't know what they're doing with 17.

Q. Put a bunker in to the right of the green.

DUSTIN JOHNSON: Is it a par 5 or -

Q. It's going to be a 5.

DUSTIN JOHNSON: See, we played it as a par-4, so it'll be different. But you couldn't hit the fairway whenever I played.

Q. What made the course tough?

DUSTIN JOHNSON: Well, it's got, from what I remember, small greens, and they were firm, and it's kind of hard to hit the fairways out there.

Q. Because of the slope to them?

DUSTIN JOHNSON: Yeah. But it's just a good course. You're going to have to - it's going to be like any Open. You're going to have to drive it straight and hit good iron shots.

Q. Do you see 16 under winning there?

DUSTIN JOHNSON: No.

Q. Who beat you?

DUSTIN JOHNSON: I have no idea.

Q. You don't remember who beat you?

DUSTIN JOHNSON: No. I know I played well in the stroke play and then I think I lost in the second round.

Q. Do you think the guy who beat you remembers who he beat?

DUSTIN JOHNSON: I'm sure. (Laughter.) I'm sure he does.

Q. You talked about if you play well then you get on the Ryder Cup team. In your mind what does that mean? What do you have to do?

DUSTIN JOHNSON: Just have to play good golf. Probably wouldn't hurt if I won a tournament between now and then. That would definitely help. But you know, I'm just going to have to get in contention a few times and have some good high finishes and play good in the U.S. Open and the PGA.

Q. Is the Ryder Cup important enough for you to lobby for it?

DUSTIN JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, it's important to me. I want to play. I think I'll be a good asset for the team, and I enjoyed playing over in Wales and I enjoyed the Presidents Cup. So I want to be on the team and I'm going to do whatever I can to make it. Obviously having a couple months off hurts a little bit, but I've still got plenty of time to make the team.

Q. Can you describe your club selection options on the 12th hole, the par 3, 184 yards, and how are they likely to vary depending on wind, those sort of factors?

DUSTIN JOHNSON: I mean, 12, I've hit anywhere between I think a pitching wedge and a 5 iron, just depending on the wind. Most of the time it plays into the wind, so I'm hitting the 8 iron to probably 6 iron, depending on if it's front left to back right. But if it's blowing pretty hard once or twice, I think I've hit a 5 iron, and if it's blowing down a couple times I've hit 9 iron or wedge.

Q. And how do you attack the last par 5, the 15th hole, 530 yards? Is it a must birdie, at least a must birdie?

DUSTIN JOHNSON: I mean, yeah, you want to birdie that hole because pretty much everybody can get there. But it's not that easy of a birdie hole. But you definitely do want to make a birdie there because you can reach it. But you've got to hit a really good second shot if you're going for it to make birdie.

Q. How do you think those rumors got started?

DUSTIN JOHNSON: I have no idea.

Q. It doesn't anger you at all that people would spread something like that about you?

DUSTIN JOHNSON: Not really. It doesn't bother me.

MODERATOR: Dustin, thanks. Good luck this week.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.