But with three wins, including two World Golf Championships, and a runner-up finish in his past four starts, the 32-year-old says he's ready to turn around his form at his previously unhappy hunting ground. I went to tap one in, and it came straight left off the putter, and thought to myself, I'd better mark the next one.
"I was thinking actually seven (or) eight-under after the second hole and I did give myself the opportunities coming in, just, unfortunately, had a couple of mistakes", the Australian told reporters.
"I've been very limited hitting golf balls", McIlroy said.
Masters champion Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy were among the later starters, with McIlroy paired with world number one Johnson and Justin Thomas.
He made it sound simple, even though the Players Stadium Course can be anything but that.
"I think both were previous year, too, maybe", he said. He tied for 28th.
Four-time major victor McIlroy put Johnson's purple patch down to his ice-cool demeanour.
"There you go", he replied.
"Good numbers at a good time, made a good swing at a good time", McGirt said.
Jordan Spieth didn't like what he saw, so he chose to document it. Scott followed by spinning a shot off the bank and into the water for a double bogey, and he compounded that with another double bogey.
Expect the weekend hole locations to be on the left side of the hole, giving a natural funnel for players who do decide to take on the risk of driving the green.
The most recent instance occurred only past year when Will Wilcox thrilled the crowd with his ace. "If I'm going to play well here, this is the time", said Johnson, who owns five victories since claiming his maiden major championship at Oakmont in June. "Those two years could have been spread out over 15 and everything else is solid. And from that lie, I had no chance", Spieth said after opening with a 73.
That's how quickly it can change on a course that has been described with every word from exciting to dramatic to frightening to aggravating.
So his decision not to play a practice round this week at the TPC Sawgrass was really not that big of a deal. He returns having not won a tournament since then, and being reminded that no one has ever won in consecutive years since the tournament began in 1974.
Tiger Woods is the only player to win it twice (2001, 2013) since it moved to the TPC Sawgrass.
The focus starts with Johnson, however, mainly because he has not finished worse than third over his last five tournaments that stretch over three months and one very untimely slip down the stairs that knocked him out of the Masters.
Playing for the first time in six weeks because of the deep back bruise, Johnson missed a playoff by one shot last week in the Wells Fargo Championship.