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British Open 2016: Dustin Johnson ready to contend with Spieth, McIlroy, and Day at Royal Troon

By
Tom LaMarre, The Sports Xchange
Dustin Johnson kisses the Championship Trophy on the 18th green after winning his first major championship in the final round at the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on June 19, 2016. Johnson won with a score of 5 under par. Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI
Dustin Johnson kisses the Championship Trophy on the 18th green after winning his first major championship in the final round at the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on June 19, 2016. Johnson won with a score of 5 under par. Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo

The Americans have virtually owned Royal Troon, which will host the 145th Open Championship this week, and the buzz is that the next to win there might be Dustin Johnson -- who finally seems to have taken full ownership of his immense talent.

DJ has won his last two outings, claiming his first major title in the U.S. Open at Oakmont and capturing the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, stealing a great deal of the spotlight from the so-called new Big Three, Jason Day of Australia, the United States' Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland.

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"It's the first time I've won two tournaments in a row," said Johnson, who has taken the lead from Day in the FedEx Cup point standings and is right behind him at No. 2 in the World Golf Rankings. "I know it wasn't like two consecutive tournaments, but consecutive tournaments that I played. I mean, that's big. I'm excited and looking forward to going over to the British with the golf game in good form.

"It definitely gives me a lot of confidence, and maybe frees me up, too. I don't know, I'm definitely a little more relaxed out there on the golf course, especially coming down the stretch. ... Really calm, collected, just focusing on what I was doing. Just playing golf."

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The Open Championship has been played eight times at Royal Troon in South Ayrshire, Scotland, and Americans have won the past six.

That list includes Arnold Palmer (1962), Tom Weiskopf (1973), Tom Watson (1982), Mark Calcavecchia (1989), Justin Leonard (1997) and longshot Todd Hamilton (2004).

There doesn't seem to be an answer as to why.

"I've been asked that question many times in the last 12 years and I can't figure it out," said Leonard, who 19 years ago closed with a 6-under-par 65 to beat Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland and Jesper Parnevik of Sweden by three strokes.

Johnson had more than his share of major championship heartbreak before breaking through at Oakmont despite a huge controversy when he was told about a possible rules infraction in the middle of his round.

However, he kept his head down the stretch this time and won by three strokes despite being assessed a one-stroke penalty after the round.

DJ hopes to have his name etched on the Claret Jug below that of Zach Johnson, who claimed his second major title last year on the Old Course at St. Andrews.

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Writers asked Dustin at Firestone what he has to change in his game to make it three in a row at Royal Troon.

"Nothing," Johnson said without blinking an eye. "No, I mean, it's still a golf course. I like the kind of golf over there. I enjoy it. You've got to use a lot of imagination. It's generally windy, so you use the wind. You've got to use the ground. I mean, it's completely different than what we do here. I don't know, ever since the first time I ever went over there, I've always enjoyed it, and I feel like I play pretty well over there.

"It just depends on which course you're playing over there. I mean, obviously St. Andrews -- even at St. Andrews you've still got to use the greens, you've got to use the wind, use everything to get the ball close to the hole. It's the same pretty much at all the links courses. But the thing over there is you can run the ball up on the green on every hole pretty much. That's the big difference."

DJ has played well all the season, with 10 finishes in the top 10 and 13 in the top 25 in 15 tournaments without missing the cut, but didn't find the winner's circle until the second major of the year.

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Then he shot 66-66 on the weekend to claim his third title on the World Golf Championships on the same weekend the baseball team at his alma mater, Coastal Carolina, captured its first title in the College World Series.

"I feel like tee-to-green I've been really solid all year," said Johnson, who has at least one victory on the PGA Tour in each of the last nine seasons, the longest active streak on the circuit, and 11 overall.

"My wedges have improved a lot. I'm getting a lot more opportunities when I'm in the fairway and hitting my wedges closer than I have been. Yeah, I mean, I just feel like the work I've put in with the putter is finally paying off."

McIlroy, Spieth and Day have traded the No. 1 ranking since August of 2014, but Johnson is knocking on the door.

Finally, he seems to be living up to the opinion of many that he's the most talented golfer in the world,

"That's the goal, to get to that No. 1 spot," said DJ, who finished in the top 10 on 11 occasions in the majors before winning at Oakmont. "But yeah, I mean, it's important. I've still got a lot of work to do to get there. It's not just getting there, you want to stay there. I'm looking forward to the challenge."

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Right now, he's only concerned about being No. 1 at Royal Troon.

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