(Editor’s Note: This interview aired prior to news coming out that Johnson had been injured falling down the stairs in his home late in the day Thursday)
Dustin Johnson is the Las Vegas favorite to win the 2017 Masters at Augusta National, and Alan Shipnuck has no problem with that.
“Yeah, sometimes you can’t overthink it,” the Sports Illustrated senior writer and Golf Magazine columnist said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “Beyond the fact that Dustin has been playing the most dominant golf of any human being since Tiger Woods basically, you have to look at the conditions this week. The course is really soft, it’s going to play very long, and they’re expecting big winds on Thursday and Friday – and into the wind, Dustin Johnson is by far the longest hitter in the game. He’s got that low bullet, that ball flight. A guy like Rory McIlroy doesn’t play that well in the wind because he hits it so high. It’s going to take a long hitter, but it’s going to take the right long hitter.”
Johnson could be that guy. The 32-year-old won the U.S. Open last year and finished sixth and fourth at the Masters in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
“He’s learned how to play the golf course, he feels more comfortable here – I just feel like this is his time,” Shipnuck said. “The way the course is set up, you couldn’t ask for a better template for a guy like Dustin to separate himself.”
Tiger Woods, meanwhile, will not play in the Masters, as expected. But his absence isn’t nearly as damaging to golf as it was five or 10 years ago.
“No, I think the way there’s been this slow breakdown of Tiger’s game and his body, we’ve had basically three-and-a-half years to groom these new superstars,” Shipnuck said. “Rory McIlroy, by winning the British Open and the PGA back-to-back, he kind of established himself. What Jordan Spieth did in 2015 (by winning two majors), what Dustin is doing right now, Jason Day being No. 1 for pretty much (the entire) 2016 calendar year – those four guys have really separated themselves with their play, with their distinctive personalities, the brands they’ve built. Together, they more than make up for Tiger in a lot of different ways.”
Indeed, when it comes to replacing Woods, there is certainly strength in numbers – and frankly, there was no other alternative.
“No one guy is going to replace him for a lot of different reasons,” Shipnuck said. “He’s the most dominant golfer of all time, he was a cross-cultural icon, he reinvented the sport with his power – there are so many different things that made Tiger such a big deal. So it’s folly to expect one golfer to come in and be the next Tiger Woods. But on the flip side to that is the depth of these superstars is so great. When Tiger wasn’t playing, interest fell off a cliff. Now you’ve got four, five, six, seven, eight superstars. They’re always playing around the world in any given week, even if they’re on different continents. You felt Tiger’s absence even at his peak. He’s only playing 18 weeks a year. Now you have all these other guys who are kind of pushing the narrative forward and building towards something all the time. We miss Tiger, as the NBA missed Michael Jordan, but I think golf is in a good place with who’s kind of stepped in to fill the void.”