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Golfer Dustin Johnson returns to Whistling Straits, site of costly blunder

Golfer Dustin Johnson returns to Whistling Straits, site of costly blunder
Dustin Johnson will get a second chance to win a PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, where in 2010 he took a two-stroke penalty in the final roundand finished one stroke behind winner Jordan Spieth. (Sam Greenwood / Getty Images)

Here's the enduring image from the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits: Dustin Johnson, long on sideburns and heartbreak, using a pencil eraser to wipe out the five he thought he had made Sunday on the 18th hole.

If only Johnson could erase it from his memory too.

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He had grounded his club in a bunker well right of the fairway that he figured was just a patch of dirt, given the presence of spectators. But tournament officials had distributed a local rules sheet, and posted it on bathroom mirrors in the clubhouse, stating that on all areas of the course, what was designed to be a bunker would play as a bunker, even if it had heel prints and tire tracks.

Instead of joining Bubba Watson and eventual champion Martin Kaymer in a playoff along the shores of Lake Michigan, Johnson took a two-stroke penalty.

"Maybe," Johnson said, "I should have looked at the rules sheet a little harder."

Johnson returns to Sheboygan, Wis., this week for another PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.

"The golf course demands really high second shots, so you figure he has to be one of the contenders [this week]," Hall of Fame member Nick Faldo said in a telephone interview. "But mentally, I don't know. We'll see how much scar tissue he has from the U.S. Open and the [British] Open."

Johnson's failure in 2010 to call in a rules official would have been overshadowed had he won the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in June. Instead, he three-putted from 12 feet on the 72nd hole to lose to Jordan Spieth by one shot.

Johnson blamed his final miss, from four feet, on the conditions: "It just bounced and missed left."

"Probably a good deflection," said Faldo, who will call the PGA Championship for CBS Sports. "The first putt was stupidly difficult. I was screaming at the TV because I had a funny feeling he'd miss the second one.

"When you have a megaquick first putt, nine times out of 10 you won't hit the second one as hard as you want, won't have quite the same acceleration."

A month later, it seemed, Johnson had moved on. He led after two rounds of the British Open at St. Andrews only to shoot 75-75 on the weekend.

"If you've played that well, 10 under to start, it's actually quite difficult to shoot that many over," said Faldo, a three-time British Open champion. "He could play a two-iron all the way around and still post a good score."

Fatherhood and engagement to Paulina Gretzky might have brought happiness, but Johnson's game remains a contrast of brilliant ball-striking and erratic putting.

"He has such big hands and uses a regular, skinny-sized putter grip," Faldo said. "It looks like a tiny bit of clumsiness takes over the stroke, and he gets a little inside. He's a little shut [at impact] occasionally, and then he blocks it or finds that flare again."

The technical woes might be brought on by an emotion encapsulated in a word.

"Doubt," said NBC/Golf Channel analyst Frank Nobilo, who won 15 professional events. "If you get a twinge of doubt, sometimes it's 'Why me?'

"That doesn't mean you can't win … but in Dustin's situation, the Saturday and Sunday at the [British Open] really told us he has not forgotten about what's happened, not just at Chambers Bay but over the last four or five years."

Before the 2010 PGA Championship, Golf Digest counted 967 bunkers at Whistling Straits. A re-examination yielded 1,012, and all of them will play as true bunkers, just as they did in 2010.

Johnson, 31 and ranked No. 8 in the world, now uses younger brother Austin as his caddie.

But his mind belongs only to him. And that has proved to be his greatest challenge.

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