For the 93 players who are playing in the 81st Masters Tournament, the story Thursday was the stiff winds. For the 94th player, it was a stiff back.
Columbia’s Dustin Johnson, the No. 1 player in the world and the hottest golfer on the PGA Tour in 2017, withdrew from the tournament at the last possible moment after injuring his back in a Wednesday afternoon fall at his Augusta rental home.
“I mean, it sucks. I want to play,” Johnson said after walking off the first tee. “I’m playing probably the best golf of my career, and this is one of my favorite tournaments of the year. To have a freak accident happen yesterday afternoon after I got back from the course, it sucks. It really does.”
Johnson had won his last three tournaments entering the week and was the betting favorite to win his first green jacket and second major this week. Johnson injured his left lower back when he slipped walking down stairs in his socks, he said.
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“Tatum (his son) was on the way home from day care, and it was pouring down rain, so I was going to go move the car,” he said. “My left elbow is swollen and bruised. I landed on my left side.”
Johnson was set to tee off at 2:03 p.m. Thursday. He showed up on the Augusta National grounds about an hour before that tee time optimistic that he could play, and after a 45-minute warm-up session on the practice range, he headed for the first tee, telling reporters on site that “I’m going to try” to play. After a few putts on the practice green, he made his way to the first tee before changing his mind and walking off the course toward the clubhouse.
“It’s just real tight,” he said of his back. “As I was making some swings on the range, it was about 80 percent. And it’s still just ‑ it’s just so tight, it just wouldn’t let me ‑ I couldn’t get through a backswing. Every time right at impact, it would just catch. So I just don’t feel like there’s any chance of me competing.”
Johnson was seeking to become the first favorite to win here since Tiger Woods won in 2002 as the No. 1 golfer in the world. Instead, he’s the second world No. 1 to miss the event, joining Woods in 2014, who missed that year because of injury.
“Great shame, great shame, for the whole tournament, for all the viewers,” Golf Channel analyst Colin Montgomerie said. “By far the best player in the world. All we can do is wish him well and a speedy recovery and to get back for the next major.”
Johnson doesn’t believe the injury will affect him the rest of the season.
“Probably another two days and I’d be fine,” he said. “If it happened on Monday, I don’t think we would have any issues, but it happened Wednesday afternoon.”
The Coastal Carolina graduate was poised to bring the state of South Carolina’s greatest athletics year full circle from the Chanticleers baseball national title to Clemson’s football national title to USC’s women’s basketball national title and men’s basketball Final Four appearance and back to another Chant closing it out in a green jacket. Now, Johnson will have to wait another year for another chance.
“Obviously, I can make some swings,” he said, “but I try and make my normal swing and I just don’t feel like there’s any chance I’d be able to compete. It hurts.”