Dustin Johnson Struggles En Route to Opening-Round 74 at 2021 Masters

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistApril 8, 2021

Dustin Johnson hits on the first fairway during the first round of the Masters golf tournament on Thursday, April 8, 2021, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Dustin Johnson opened the 2021 Masters with a two-over 74 on Thursday at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia to begin his defense of the green jacket he won in November.

Johnson, who posted a 65 in last year's first round to hold a share of the lead, didn't get off to an ideal start Thursday with a bogey on No. 1. He finished the day with three birdies, three bogeys and a double bogey, which came on the 18th hole.

He walked off the course tied for 37th place with the afternoon wave of play ongoing.

The two-time PGA Tour Player of the Year explained how finally winning the marquee event lifted a weight off his shoulders but didn't change his outlook for the week.

"I've won the Masters, so there's no pressure on trying to win the golf tournament," Johnson told reporters Tuesday. "But still, I want to go out and I'm defending champ, so I want to go out and put myself in a position where I've got a chance to defend my title come the back nine on Sunday."

He's proved to be a consistent contender at Augusta. He finished in the top 10 in four straight appearances before picking up the win five months ago in an event that was rescheduled from the spring to the fall because of the coronavirus pandemic.

While he couldn't match his blistering start from last year's win, he avoided disaster as Augusta showed early signs of presenting a much tougher challenge than in November, and he gave himself enough birdie looks to stay within striking distance of the leaders, even with the late struggles.

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His best shot of the day came on the par-four 11th, where he was off the green facing a tricky uphill chip with his third shot. Saving par would have been a great result, but Johnson did even better as his chip rolled into the hole:

All told, the 36-year-old South Carolina native kept himself on track to accomplish his goal of having a chance come the back nine Sunday without showcasing top form.

He'll likely need to put together at least one round in the mid-60s to have a chance to repeat, but the initial signs from Round 1 suggest he won't need to match his record-setting score of 20 under from last year to retain the green jacket.

Johnson will tee off with playing partners Lee Westwood and Tyler Strafaci at 1:36 p.m. ET on Friday for their second round.