He reached the 18th hole Wednesday on the TPC Sawgrass, water all the way down the left side of one of the more daunting closing holes in golf, and opted for a 3-wood with a strong breeze coming off the left. It was perfect for his cut.

“That’s not cutting,” Johnson said with a laugh, the words not long out of his mouth when he could see the ball splash in the distance.

He asked for the 7-wood, the club he thought about hitting in the first place, and tried a draw. This one started down the right side with a fade, finishing in deep rough near the cart path.

“Yeah, that’s more like it,” Johnson deadpanned. Another smile and he was on his way.

The Players Championship is a mystery to him. He enjoys the Stadium Course and feels it suits his game. Trouble is, he has only one top-10 finish in his 12 appearances, a peculiar record for a player who has spent more time at No. 1 than any other since Tiger Woods.

Whether that changes this week is irrelevant.

Johnson looked more at peace than he has in months, even as he endures the longest stretch of his career without a win. His last victory was the Saudi International 13 months ago. His last PGA Tour title was the Masters in November 2020.

The simple explanation — “Not a very simple answer,” he said — is he hasn’t played well. Digging a little deeper, he mentioned the relentless testing of drivers last year that kept him from working on the whole of his game.

“Just kind of a frustrating year,” he said.