Dustin Johnson found a way to come up short ... again

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- The game can appear easy for him, so much so that it seems just a bit of bother for Dustin Johnson. The raw power, the athleticism, the improved wedge game are all factors that add up to a golfer who has all the ingredients to dominate.

So why is he unable to bring home more of the true championship hardware?

There is something to be said for putting yourself in position, giving yourself opportunities. It is better to be there and come up short than never even get there at all.

But Johnson's runner-up finish to Brooks Koepka on Sunday at the PGA Championship is yet another frustrating run of major championship disappointment.

To be sure, this is not on the level of his three-putt on the final green at Chambers Bay in 2015 to hand the U.S. Open to Jordan Spieth. Or the final-round implosion at Pebble Beach in 2010 that cost him a chance at the U.S. Open. Or even the wayward iron shot in 2011 at Royal St. George's that led to a runner-up finish at The Open.

And yet, Sunday's end was troublesome nonetheless. Yes, he was seven strokes back to begin the day, and few figured Koepka would be challenged given the way he had bullied the bully that is Bethpage Black and built a 54-hole advantage that had never been overcome in any major championship.

But Koepka did falter, and Johnson did surge, to the point of closing within one shot with three holes to play only to bogey not one, but two of those finishing holes -- and lose by two.

"The last three holes is what got me,'' Johnson said. "Walking off 15 green [where he made birdie all four days] and standing in the 16th fairway, I'm at 8 under and hit two really good shots there. And I don't know how my ball went over the green there. Obviously, it's not a spot where you can go. I hit a great chip and a good putt and made a 5.''

Suddenly, the drama that had built over the previous 30 minutes was pretty much gone. Koepka, who had bogeyed four straight holes through the 14th -- and walked off the green hearing loud chants of "D.J., D.J., D.J.'' -- could breathe again.

And when Johnson made another bogey at the 17th, it was all but over.

The 490-yard, par-4 16th proved to be the difference. It ranked as the hardest hole on the course Sunday, playing to an average of 4.61. Johnson hit a 300-yard drive into the fairway and had 194 yards to the hole.

"Wind was howling in my face a little bit off the right,'' he said. "I actually almost went back and grabbed a 4-iron -- I hit a 5-iron -- because I didn't think the 5 was going to even come close, based on the shots that I hit earlier in the round into the wind. That wind was just eating the ball up when you're hitting into it.

"So I just tried to hit kind of a little low draw. Hit the shot I wanted to right at the flag. I don't know how it flew 200 yards into the wind like that.''

Johnson missed his par putt from 8 feet, and the questions arise again.

Why not more of the big ones?

Johnson was one of just 10 players to break par Sunday, his score of 69 bested by just two players. He had the best score of any player who started the final round in the top 20. And for the second straight major championship, he finished second.

But it wasn't a victory, and that 2016 U.S. Open win at Oakmont is looking awfully lonely. Johnson could and should be a multiple major winner. And at some point, the close calls become more negative than positive.

Johnson has 20 PGA Tour victories, putting him among some rare company. When he got to that total in February at the WGC-Mexico Championship, he was the first to cross that threshold since Davis Love III in 2008.

He has had wins in each of his first 11 seasons on the PGA Tour, played on Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams and also has two European Tour victories. Five of his wins are in World Golf Championship events, which have fields that rival those in the majors.

But his major record is pocked with near misses and should-have-beens. He now has nine top-fives in major championships and has completed the career Grand Slam of second-place finishes. He has 10 top-10s in his past 16 major starts.

If anything, Johnson has been resilient. The Pebble Beach blow-up nine years ago didn't keep him from contending at that year's PGA Championship -- where an infamous 72nd-hole rules violation cost him two shots and a chance at a playoff. The misfired 2-iron on the 14th hole of the final round at Royal St. George's a year later ended up in the trash bin, but he didn't sulk for long.

Even the 72nd-hole three-putt -- a 12-footer for eagle would have won, a 3-footer for birdie would have tied -- at the 2015 U.S. Open was short-lived. Johnson was the 36-hole leader at The Open that year before fading, but then came back the following year to win at Oakmont.

Last year's U.S. Open saw him get some bad luck, as Shinnecock Hills became almost unplayable in the late afternoon, his second-round lead vanishing with a score of 77.

Johnson was taking no consolation in the Runner-Up Slam and said it's "a little frustrating sometimes just because I've had quite a few chances, and I've felt like a few of them I really didn't do anything [wrong]. I played well. But that's just how it is. It's hard to win majors. If it was easy, a lot of guys would have a lot more than they do.''

Koepka found that out Sunday. Cruising through 54 holes, suddenly the game became difficult. He noted the stress, and Johnson did his best to put the pressure on, making three front-nine birdies and then pulling within one stroke with his birdie at the 15th hole. "I was in shock,'' Koepka said. "I was in shock of what was going on.''

But presented with a great opportunity, it was Johnson who flinched.

Koepka took over the No. 1 spot from Johnson, who has mentored the younger golfer to a degree and has now seen him win four major championships since Koepka won his first.

Johnson has more wins, but Koepka has the bigger trophies. And that has to sting.