Strange things are prone to happen at the Masters, but most them occur on the back nine on Sunday.
On Wednesday, as rain blanketed the Augusta National Golf Club, the world’s best player, Dustin Johnson, had his Masters hopes possibly take a tumble.
“At roughly 3:00 p.m. [Wednesday], Dustin took a serious fall on a staircase in his Augusta rental home,” Johnson’s agent David Winkle said in a statement.
“He landed very hard on his lower back and is now resting, although quite uncomfortably. He has been advised to remain immobile and begin a regime of anti-inflammatory medication and icing, with the hopes of being able to play [Thursday].”
It’s pretty clear that if Johnson can’t make his tee time, the tournament will be wide open. It’s also clear that Johnson won’t really know until he wakes up on the first day of play.
Johnson was the betting favorite — yes, there is legal betting on golf — as the 11-2 favorite. In golf, that’s a pretty strong number. But there is reason for it.
On Feb. 19, Johnson won the rain-plagued Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club. On March 5, he won the World Golf Championship event in Mexico City and on March 26, he won the World Match Play tournament.
“Right now he’s playing with so much confidence,” Andy North , a two-time U.S. Open winner who is now an analyst for ESPN, said before learning of the injury. “He’s won three in a row … but the key is he hasn’t even putted great in a couple of those. If he putts well, I don’t know how guys beat him right now.”
North’s reasoning holds up no matter who is playing. You can’t win the Masters from just the tees and fairways. And the Masters is almost always won — or in more cases lost — on Sunday.
But Thursday, Friday and Saturday come first and two of those days will be weather affected.
There is a chance of morning showers Thursday followed by winds in the 20-30 mph. range the rest of Thursday and most of Friday.
“I like the fact that the weather is coming in, because that will make the misses that much bigger for everybody,” said Phil Mickelson, a three-time Masters winner.
“If you continue to miss in the wrong spot and it gets worse, you’re going to make a lot of bogeys, doubles or worse. That’s going to be something that I’m going to use my knowledge and skill to try and avoid.”
Jordan Spieth, who won in 2015 and tied for second last year, brings it back to the putting.
“[The wind] puts more of a premium on speed putting,” Spieth said. “I mean, big time. You don’t want to have five-footers from above the hole when the wind is blowing.
“Because of the speed of the greens and the amount of slope there is, the wind affects the ball that much more. The wind can move putts from five feet … more than half a cup sometimes.”
Severe weather turned the course soggy Wednesday. The annual par-three contest was first moved up by 2 ½ hours and then canceled after 55 minutes of play because of the oncoming storms. The course was closed for the rest of the day as the rain continued through the night.
All of which will be an advantage to longer hitters, such as Johnson.
Johnson is scheduled to tee off in the last group on Thursday at 2:03 p.m. EDT, which will give him more time to evaluate and perhaps resuscitate his lower back and elbows. He’ll be playing along with Bubba Watson, a two-time winner, and Jimmy Walker, the 2016 PGA champion.
Rickie Fowler, considered by some to be the best golfer to never win a major, is also one of those long hitters despite a size deficit. He tees off at 10:12 a.m. along with Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.
“When it comes to the smaller guys and the kind in the 150-pound range — not as tall as a guy like Dustin — we have to use our whole body to generate that power,” Fowler said. “Just so we’re at least in the range of those guys that move the ball past us.”
Johnson is no stranger to freak incidents. In 2012, he had to withdraw from the Masters because he injured his back lifting a jet ski.
If he plays, this will be Johnson’s eighth Masters. His best finish was last year with a fourth. He finished sixth in 2015.
In a weird bit of foreshadowing, Johnson discussed how your golf fortunes can change quite suddenly.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in my game right now,” Johnson said Tuesday, “especially with the way I’ve been playing the last few tournaments. But, you know, anything can happen.”
By Thursday afternoon, everyone will find out how serious “anything” can be.
2:50 p.m.: This article has been updated with news that Dustin Johnson injured his lower back in a fall down stairs at his Augusta rental house.
This article was originally published at 1:10 p.m.