Why Dustin Johnson is ‘smarter than you think,’ according to Rory McIlroy

Six days before he won the Masters by five shots, before he won the Masters by the lowest total score ever, before he won his first green jacket and second major championship overall, Dustin Johnson was asked what his favorite Masters tradition is. 

“Favorite tradition. For me, I don’t know if it’s really tradition, but my favorite thing about the Masters is the sandwiches,” he said matter of factly. 

Which one?

“All of them,” he said. 

Johnson laughed. Those in the room laughed. You laughed. 

But there’s more on the Johnson menu, Rory McIlroy said, than just pimento cheese, egg salad and chicken. 

“He’s smarter than you think,” he said.   

How so?

“He’s switched on, more so than he lets on, more so than everyone in the media thinks,” McIlroy said. “I’ll just put it that way.”  

Or to put it another way, McIlroy finished 11 under at Augusta National Golf Club  – and finished nine shots back of Johnson. This summer, too, Johnson won three other tournaments, including the Tour Championship, finished in the top 10 in the year’s other two majors and re-rose to No. 1 in the world rankings. 

And, after a host of major championship near-misses, he’s the latest wearer of a green jacket, the only major that has escaped McIlroy.  

“Yeah, he’s been knocking on the door so long, and I think, since coming back out of sort back in June, the lockdown, he has been by far the best player in the world,” McIlroy said. “He’s won a few times, won a FedEx Cup, had a chance at Harding Park. And I think, yeah, it validates what he did at Oakmont a few years ago and he’s had so many chances and hasn’t quite been able to close the deal, but his resume speaks for itself, how many times he’s won on the PGA Tour, how consistent he’s been. 

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“I played with him the first two days here. He’s got the ball on a string. It was really impressive.” 

As were McIlroy’s last three days at the Masters. A second-round, 6-under 66, followed by a third-round 67, followed by a final-round 69. Just two bogeys combined over those three rounds. Which makes his first-round, 3-over 75 stick out worse than a weed in the Augusta fairways. Had he shot the average of his final three rounds on the first day, he would have had another 67 – and finished just one shot behind DJ. 

McIlroy said he “just got a little careful, a little tentative, a little guidey” with his swing during his first round, which started on Thursday, was postponed due to darkness and then completed on Friday morning. 

“I didn’t commit to what I was doing, and again, this course more than any other can make you do that at times. That was really what it was,” said McIlroy, who has won four majors, but none since 2014. “The first day I actually did OK. I was even par. It wasn’t – even par through nine here is not that bad, and then just that second morning, I just didn’t quite have it. I guess I need to take the positives, and played the last 54 really well and only made two bogeys in that 54-hole stretch, which is probably the best run of golf I’ve played here.”  

Nick Piastowski

Nick Piastowski

Golf.com Editor

Nick Piastowski is a Senior Editor at Golf.com and Golf Magazine. In his role, he is responsible for editing, writing and developing stories across the golf space. And when he’s not writing about ways to hit the golf ball farther and straighter, the Milwaukee native is probably playing the game, hitting the ball left, right and short, and drinking a cold beer to wash away his score. You can reach out to him about any of these topics — his stories, his game or his beers — at nick.piastowski@golf.com.