The world’s No. 1-ranked player arrived at Augusta National on quite a roll, having won his last three starts.
He never took a shot at the first major championship of the year.
Clearly in pain during a limited warmup session, Johnson still intended to at least try to play Thursday. He walked slowly toward the first hole, where he was paired with two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson and PGA Championship winner Jimmy Walker in the final group of the opening round.
Then, at the last possible moment, Johnson changed his mind.
While Watson and Walker teed off, Johnson sauntered back to the clubhouse, a stunning development in a tournament that was just hours old.
His Masters was over before it ever began.
Johnson was injured late Wednesday afternoon when he took what his agent described as a “serious” fall on a staircase.
“He landed very hard on his lower back and is now resting, although quite uncomfortably,” David Winkle said in an email. “He has been advised to remain immobile and begin a regimen of anti-inflammatory medication and icing, with the hope of being able to play.”
Johnson had been scheduled to attend the Golf Writers Association of America annual dinner Wednesday night to accept its award as male player of the year. He was coming off a season in which he won the U.S. Open for his first major, was voted PGA Tour player of the year for the first time, won the PGA Tour money title and captured the Vardon Trophy for the lowest adjusted scoring average.
Rickie Fowler this week described the 32-year-old American as a “freak of nature.”
Winkle on Tuesday said Johnson was in “as good a shape as I’ve ever seen him in every aspect of his game and his life.”
Two years ago, Rory McIlroy was playing soccer when he ruptured ligaments in his ankle a few weeks before he was to defend his title in the British Open at St. Andrews when he was No. 1 in the world.
But this was far different.
Johnson rose to No. 1 in the world starting with the first of three straight victories, the first player to do that going into the Masters in more than 40 years. Two of those titles were World Golf Championships, and his undefeated week at the Match Play made him the first player to capture all four of the WGCs.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in my game right now, especially with the way I’ve been playing the last few tournaments,” he said Tuesday. “But, you know, anything can happen.”
Johnson also missed the 2012 Masters, withdrawing two days before the start of the tournament, saying he had tweaked his back from pulling a jet ski out of the water. Golf.com cited an unnamed source two years later as saying Johnson had been suspended for a positive cocaine test. His management denied that he had been suspended.