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Dustin Johnson consistently goes against the grain

DUBLIN, Ohio -- Dustin Johnson posted an 8-under 64 in the opening round of the Memorial Tournament on Thursday to claim an early lead. He made 10 birdies, drove the ball an average of 309 yards and appeared afterward as if he'd never even broken a sweat.

Each of these sounds conspicuously like the Johnson maneuvers to which we've become so accustomed. Call it caveman golf or bomb-and-gouge or whatever other cutesy name works. He basically swings hard, finds it and swings hard again. As far as strategies go, there are plenty of less successful ones.

It's partially because of this propensity to bash the ball that he doesn't get enough credit for what he has accomplished. Then there are the multiple close calls at major championships, none of which he has won yet. Not to mention the fact that even his peers consider him among the most talented at their craft.

"Dustin Johnson is arguably the most talented player on the PGA Tour," Jordan Spieth said this week. "I think he's not only a freak athlete but a freak golf athlete -- like, he has great hands, great clubface control. I mean, he hits some shots where you won't see anybody else trying to."

All of it clouds a difficult realization that has become a simple fact: Johnson has turned himself into one of the game's most consistent players.

It's an abstract proposition because we usually associate consistency with dullness. Consistent players, we collectively surmise, are boring players. Plodders. Jim Furyk, that's a consistent guy. Matt Kuchar. Zach Johnson. Players who don't fascinate you with their skills but "know how to get the ball in the hole," as the old cliché goes.

In his prime years, Tiger Woods was consistently dominant, but it was the dominance that was always a bigger focus than the consistency.

For the guy known simply by the initials DJ, that mark of consistency hasn't followed him because he's not one of those plodders. Still, the description fits.

While each of the world's celebrated top three players has struggled at times this season, Johnson has nine top-25 finishes in 11 starts. While most of the game's elite players have endured some winless seasons, he has won titles in each of the previous eight campaigns.

Since his most recent win 15 months ago, Johnson has finished in the top 10 in 14 of 29 worldwide starts with just a single missed cut.

"For the past few years, I feel like my golf game in total has been solid and consistent," Johnson said. "Every week, I feel like I'm up there and I've got a chance to win."

He's not wrong. He plays consistent golf, even if doesn't fit the long-standing definition most of us have come to know.

Perhaps he doesn't get as much credit for this because we have an image of consistent players being the most contemplative and introspective of the bunch, as if their steady nature inside the ropes has uncovered a lucidity on the game that others don't understand.

By contrast, Johnson walked into the interview room at Muirfield Village after his opening 64, was asked to assess his impressive round and coolly replied, "It was pretty good."

He didn't stop there, either.

Johnson's post-round Q&A session was something of the direct opposite of contemplative and introspective.

Asked where his various talents most help him on the course, he answered, "I don't know. I've never really thought about it. I have no idea."

On whether he's thinking ahead to the upcoming U.S. Open: "No. I mean, I'm playing the Memorial. So I've got a lot of other things to worry about than the U.S. Open. I'll worry about it when I get there."

On how he sometimes makes the game look effortless: "I don't think this game is ever easy, but, yeah, it's definitely easier some days than others."

On whether his putting is more technical or mental: "That's a good question. I don't know. If I did, I think I'd probably putt a little better."

He's even hesitant when it comes to predicting the NBA Finals: "I don't know. I like the Cavs, but also I like the Warriors."

Consistent players, we've been led to believe, know these answers -- at least the ones that surround their games. They know how to best finagle their way onto leaderboards, week after week, even without their best stuff.

Johnson is the rare bomb-and-gouger who also fits the other mold. He's disproving the theory that consistent players have to be plodders -- and the correlating theory that big hitters must own wild streaks of varying degrees.

He doesn't fit the usual profile of consistency, but the numbers show it's true. Thursday's round of 64 was his 17th sub-70 score this season. Or as he succinctly put it, "It was pretty good."