Just beyond the hole left by Tiger Woods and the chatter of Rory McIlroy lay a sleeper for the 2014 Masters. Dustin Johnson is back at Augusta, following a fine showing in 2013. You may have heard of him, because he's the guy marrying Paulina Gretzky.
This year's role of super sleeper may just be Johnson, who is lost amid the shuffle—even in his own home. There are a handful of stories getting wide attention ahead of Thursday's start, among them is the controversial cover of Golf Digest that received immense attention last week.
For those few who weren't around the Internet the past few days, here is that cover featuring Gretzky via Golf Digest's Twitter feed:
Oh hey, Paulina. pic.twitter.com/1ip2KY8lkn— Golf Digest (@GolfDigestMag) April 3, 2014
As was covered by so many, there was a great debate started by some pointed criticism from LPGA members about the cover. Our own snapshot of the controversy included reports from The New York Times, Yahoo! Sports and many others.
The sport was front and center thanks to polarizing images of Johnson's soon-to-be wife. For Johnson, he was fated to take a backseat amid a brewing debate in his own sport.
However, that might not last for long, because there are some who believe his time to shine on the biggest stage is now.
Dustin Johnson shoots 8-over 80 at Houston Open same day Golf Digest controversial issue released with Johnson's GF on cover. Coincidence?— Anthony Pioppi (@AnthonyPioppi) April 4, 2014
Now let's shove this away with all the other silly subplots on the weekend. Golf Channel's Jason Sobel did receive a text from Johnson's agent: "Just a little stiffness in his back. Nothing serious, just being very careful so he's ready to roll next week."
The withdrawal was far more about health and staying fit for the weekend than it was about a cover controversy that may not have even passed the transom of the golfer's mind.
However, you can bet fans will still make the connection that just isn't there.
There are far more important things at hand: Will Johnson inch his way past Gretzky's cover and steal back the spotlight with a magnificent weekend?
ESPN's Matt Willis played a game of elimination and decided: "This year, I'm going with a player who put up a top-15 finish in last year's Masters and is overdue for a major championship. Start fitting Dustin Johnson for a green jacket, because he's The Eliminator's pick."
Bleacher Report's Lindsay Gibbs, in breaking down the tournament's odds, has this to say about Johnson: "Right now, the 29-year-old, who is currently ranked No. 11, is playing some of the best golf of his career. He trails only Bubba Watson in driving distance, and his accuracy on the greens this season has launched him to No. 3 in the FedEx Cup standings."
For the moment, the big ticket items remain Woods' absence, major names like McIlroy and Phil Mickelson and, of course, the cover that some just can't forget.
As we know from past iterations of golf's great tournament is that all outside noise seems to dissolve into the gorgeous serenity that Augusta offers.
That's when golf does all of the talking and players like Johnson will have every last opportunity to shine. With four dominant days at Augusta, Johnson may just become the biggest story in the sport.