WITH rare exception, golf’s greatest players gather their major championships in roughly 10-year windows.

From Bobby Jones to Tiger Woods, a golfer’s prime tends to last little more than a decade, though Jack Nicklaus stretched his shadow over a remarkable 24 years from his first in the 1962 U.S. Open to the 1986 Masters.

The next-best run is Gary Player’s 17-year span. More recently, Ernie Els has the edge over the two most accomplished players in this era, Woods and Phil Mickelson, by winning majors 15 years apart.
Given these parameters, Dustin Johnson has time to win a major, and even multiple majors, as many expect he should given the abundance of talent he possesses.

But it has been more than five years since Johnson carried a three-stroke lead into the final round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and stumbled in with an 82.
Since then the long-hitting and elastic South Carolina native has had three great chances to break through, and a couple of decent ones as well, including last month at the British Open, where he was in command after 36 holes at St. Andrews before inexplicably faltering with a pair of 75s.
When Johnson arrives at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wis., for the PGA Championship, he’ll again be considered one of the favorites on Pete Dye’s burdensome, bunker-laden layout. But a victory would do more than just kick-start his pursuit of major hardware. It also would kick some demons in the teeth.
‘I think Dustin may fall along the lines of a Phil Mickelson. It might take him a while to break down the door, and once he does, I think he’ll realize that, Well, if I did it this time, I can do it again.’
Notah Begay III
His three-putt for par on the 72nd hole at Chambers Bay to miss a playoff by one shot at this year’s U.S. Open wasn’t the most ignominious setback of Johnson’s career. That would be the numbing loss in the 2010 PGA, also at Whistling Straits, when with a one-stroke lead going into the last hole, he incurred a two-stroke penalty for grounding his 4-iron in a bunker that looked more like a waste area. Except that a local rule that week (the same in play this week) deemed all of the course’s nearly 1,000 such sandy areas as bunkers. Johnson, who had birdied the previous two holes to seize the lead, shot a closing triple-bogey 7 and ended up one stroke out of a playoff won by Martin Kaymer over Bubba Watson.
To Johnson’s credit, he won’t let the memory block out the quality of golf he displayed that week along the shores of Lake Michigan. “I’m excited to get back there,” said Johnson, 31, who has nine PGA Tour titles, including the WGC-Cadillac Championship earlier this year at Trump Doral. “It’s a golf course that suits my game, if I’m driving it well. And I’m driving it well right now.
“I like my chances at any venue,” Johnson added. “Going back there where I’ve had success, obviously, gives me more confidence. All I’m trying to do to is put myself in a situation to have a chance to win on Sunday.”
Johnson has had those chances before, including on Sunday at Royal St. George’s in the 2011 Open Championship, where, while seemingly closing in on eventual winner Darren Clarke, he pumped a 2-iron out of bounds on the 14th hole to stop his charge.
But perhaps those past disappointments, all coming by his own hand, have set the stage for something special this week at Whistling Straits. Does he believe in karma?
“Sure, why not?” he said at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, where another poor weekend, which included a final-round 76, left him T-53.
Johnson did not evince discomfort last week talking about the Whistling Straits debacle. Of his error in the bunker, he said, “I was just playing my shot. Never once did I think when I walked up to that [shot] it was in a bunker. And there were beer cans and [stuff] in it.”
(A similar error won’t occur in that bunker for anyone in the field this year, as a hospitality area has covered it.)
Jim Furyk, who has suffered his share of letdowns at Firestone, last week wasn’t thinking about the sloppy, final-hole double bogey that dropped him into second place behind Keegan Bradley in the 2012 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational when he was forging a lead that swelled to as many as six shots in the second round. Furyk said a year is plenty of time to flush out any lingering angst. So the five years Johnson has had to heal, Furyk argued, should be ample time.
“He’s played so well, and it’s a matter of time, he’s so talented,” Furyk said. “I was reading an article earlier … about him having scars and if that’s a good or a bad thing. Everyone’s got them out here. That’s the first thing that went through my mind. There isn’t anyone that doesn’t have scars and doesn’t have a memory when they step up on a tee where the last two times they hit it left in the water and then you’ve got to step up and rip one down the middle. So it’s happened to all of us. It’s how you handle those situations that end up making or breaking you and your career.”
So far, Johnson seems to be resilient. Though clearly dismayed after that closing three-putt at Chambers Bay relegated him to his second runner-up finish of the year, Johnson shrugged it off. “It’s just golf,” he said. “I did everything I could. I played well. I hit the ball well. I gave myself looks. It just wasn’t my time.”
But, of course, in the macro view, it is very much his time. Seventh in the World Ranking, Johnson has won in each of the past eight seasons, the longest streak on tour. He is first on the tour in driving distance and third in scoring. And since sitting out a six-month stretch that began last August—causing him to miss the PGA and the Ryder Cup—and ended in February, Johnson has seven top-10 finishes to rank fifth in the FedEx Cup standings.
Few players with as much talent and opportunities as Johnson fail to eventually break through. The learning curve is different for each man. But if there is a breakthrough major, it is often the PGA Championship. Since 1990, 15 players have won their first major via the year’s final opportunity.
“I think Dustin may fall along the lines of a Phil Mickelson,” said former tour player Notah Begay III, now a Golf Channel analyst. “It might take him a while to break down the door, and once he does, I think he’ll realize that, Well, if I did it this time, I can do it again.”
“I’ll be really shocked if he doesn’t win multiple major championships, and if he isn’t a 20-plus tournament winner on the PGA Tour,” said David Duval, who also endured a series of near misses before winning the 2001 Open Championship. “Granted, you have Rory McIlroy … he’s already [a lock for] the Hall of Fame. You have Jordan Spieth, he’s on a march. But I think Dustin Johnson is on that same march, right into the Hall of Fame.”
The truth is, the march needs to begin soon. Dustin Johnson has time, but going by history, his hourglass could already be halfway to expiration.