Dustin Johnson went into the clubhouse on Thursday at the PGA Championship in a very familiar position: leading the field on the first day of a major championship.
Back at Whistling Straits, where he infamously missed a chance at a playoff five years ago after grounding his club in a bunker and receiving a two-stroke penalty on the 72nd hole, Johnson opened up with a six-under par round of 66.
Johnson's fast starts have been an ongoing trend, particularly at majors in 2015. He has incredible opening-round swagger.
.@DJohnsonPGA sinks a 27-footer on the 16th hole for eagle. #SapphireonLocation #PGAChamp http://t.co/MlDEx9NpmJ2015-8-13 15:22:51
In June, he shot a 65 on Thursday at the U.S. Open and was tied for the lead after the first round. He matched that score the following month at the British Open to finish the first round with a one-stroke lead over the field.
Considering he's still without a major title to his name, it's safe to say Johnson's must avoid some of the mistakes he's made in the past if he's going to get a different outcome this week.
At the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, Johnson played a great four days of golf, staying steady and always bouncing back when he made mistakes. The leaderboard was crowded—it looks like it will be the same this week—and he was always in the mix.
Though he never recaptured the magic of his opening-round 65, his perseverance took him all the way to the 72nd green with a putt to win the tournament and then a putt to join the playoff. He missed both.
Johnson claims he doesn't have any regrets about that day due to the unpredictability of the Chambers Bay greens. "I don't think there's anything else I could have done," he told reporters, via ASAP Sports, this week when discussing that three-putt.
While the subpar greens certainly played a part in the catastrophe, Johnson clearly rushed things, and he badly misjudged the distance on his first putt. If he's in a similar situation again, he needs to take a deep breath, take his time and get the speeds right.
His collapse at the British Open last month was of a completely different ilk. He had a one-stroke lead after 18 holes, then again after 36 holes. But he was a complete non-factor on the weekend due to back-to-back 75s.
He had a similar meltdown at the Bridgestone Invitational this month—he was tied for second after the first two rounds before shooting a 75 and 76 on the weekend to finish tied for 53rd.
Both of those collapses pale in comparison to his Sunday at the U.S. Open in 2010, when he began the final round with a three-stroke lead before starting with a triple bogey and a double bogey in the first three holes and finishing the day with an 82, tied for eighth.
If Johnson's lead continues to the weekend, what can he learn from those foibles? Well, he has to play a bit more conservatively with the lead. Shoot for pars. Play the percentages.
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After an eagle on 16, Dustin Johnson is now -35 in the 1st 2 rounds of his last 6 majors He's +6 on the weekend in those majors. #PGAChamp2015-8-13 15:10:43
Sure, Johnson's aggressive game is why he's one of the most talented players in the world, but that style doesn't mix well with nerves and pressure. There's no shame in changing strategy, especially when things start to go off track.
But mostly, Johnson just needs to keep his head in the game and avoid silly mistakes, like the one he made five years ago.
His bunker grounding at Whistling Straits has become one of the most prominent blunders in golfing history.
As Jason Sobel of ESPN points out, there are signs all over the clubhouse, including in the urinals, advising the players about the bunker protocol:
All areas of the course that were designed and built as bunkers, filled with sand, will be played as bunkers (hazards), whether or not they have been raked," the signs read. They go on to advise players that bunkers outside the ropes, even those strewn with trash and pockmarked by tire tracks, will still serve as hazards throughout the tournament.
Johnson knows the bunker rules by now—he's likely reminded of them on a daily basis—but there are other notices that could be of assistance to the 31-year-old big-striking American as he sits atop another major leaderboard:
Take your time. Don't go for too much. Breathe. Don't let one bad hole turn into a bad round or a bad weekend.
These are golfing basics, but they're truisms that time and time again seem to elude Johnson when it matters the most.
He has another great chance this week to win his first major, and to do so at the sight of one of his biggest career heartbreaks would be quite a feat.
But if he wants to change his place in the history of the game, he's going to have to first change his approach.