- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 9, 2011

PEBBLE BEACH, CALIF. (AP) - Dustin Johnson returns to Pebble Beach with conflicting emotions.

Rare is a defending champion who is looking for redemption.

Johnson has a chance to make history as the first player to win three successive years at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am since this iconic event began in 1937.

Forgotten is how he built a four-shot lead in 2009 and was declared the winner when rain cut the tournament short to 54 holes. Or how he smashed one last drive to set up an easy birdie from the bunker on the final hole last year for a one-shot victory.

No, the lasting image of Johnson at Pebble Beach comes from the U.S. Open last summer.

He had a three-shot lead going into the final round when he took two chips from the rough _ one of them left-handed _ and took a triple bogey on the second hole. Then came an aggressive play with the driver on No. 3 that he hooked into the bushes for a lost ball. His tee shot on the fourth went into the ocean.

It added to a colossal collapse in his first chance to win a major. Johnson closed with an 82, the highest final round by a 54-hole leader at the U.S. Open in nearly 100 years.

He had yet to get out to Pebble Beach by Wednesday, and planned to play only a couple of holes before sneaking over to Cypress Point. Johnson has moved into the celebrity rotation, meaning he will play Monterey Peninsula on Thursday and Spyglass Hill on Friday before he gets his first crack at Pebble Beach.

Which memories will come back?

“Neither,” Johnson said. “I’m just coming out to play the golf course. It’s still good, even though the last time I played it I struggled a little bit. But I’m still excited to get back out there and play. I’m always going to love this golf course, no matter what. I’m just ready to get back out and play.”

But then he paused, and offered a slight smile.

“Get a little redemption for the last round of the Open,” he said.

Johnson does not lose confidence easily. Despite a round that would haunt some players, he was right back in the mix two months later at the PGA Championship, poised to win another major until he failed to realize he was in a bunker on a Whistling Straits course that has too many bunkers to count. Instead of getting into a playoff, he wound two shots behind. Unfazed, Johnson won the BMW Championship a month later to mark himself as a rising star.

That’s not to say he hasn’t learned from his mistakes, especially at Pebble Beach.

Johnson attributes his U.S. Open blunders to playing and thinking too quickly. He is among the fastest players in the game, and Johnson spent the latter part of last year trying to slow down.

Story Continues →