GOLF

Johnson favored, McIlroy confident as Masters looms

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Dustin Johnson
AFP PHOTO

AUGUSTA, US: Top-ranked Dustin Johnson enters next week’s 81st Masters confident about his first Augusta National outing as a major champion and a heavy favorite after three consecutive PGA triumphs.

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The 32-year-old American, who grew up only an hour’s drive from the famed layout, shook off a history of major near-misses to win the US Open last June at Oakmont, changing his Magnolia Lane mindset.

“You definitely have a different mentality,” Johnson said. “Now I’m not going into a major trying to win my first one. I’ve got one. So it’s definitely a nice feeling.”

Johnson became world number one with a February victory at Riviera and followed that with triumphs at the World Golf Championships Mexico and WGC Match Play events.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence now, confidence in my game and in myself,” Johnson said. “I just need to keep working hard, keep trying to get better.”

The Masters will be Johnson’s first major atop the rankings, from which he takes motivation while trying to avoid complacency.

“It’s still just a ranking. I don’t feel any different,” he said. “Being number one, it kind of drives me to work harder and to get better. I still go in every week preparing the same that I always have.”

Johnson struggled in his first five appearances but in 2015 became the first player in Masters history with three eagles in one round on his way to sharing sixth.

Last year, he birdied 13 and 15 on Sunday to pull within two of the lead before a double bogey at 17 ended his chance to catch eventual winner Danny Willett of England.

McIlroy’s short game sharp
Johnson said he likes the state of his game, particularly his trademark long drives, but expect him to be tested by some of the world’s best players, including second-ranked Rory McIlroy, 2015 Masters winner Jordan Spieth and five-time major champion Phil Mickelson.

“I’m certainly looking forward to going,” said three-time Masters winner Mickelson, whose last victory was the 2013 British Open.

“I feel as though the way I’m playing I could get myself in contention.”

Four-time major winner McIlroy, who would complete a career Grand Slam with a Masters victory, is pleased with his game despite a rib injury keeping him to only 10 rounds in March.

“I’ve worked on my short game. I feel like that part of my game is as sharp as it has been ever going into Augusta,” McIlroy said.

AFP

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