Johnson back in major contention
Dustin Johnson shot 65, seven under par, to take the first-round lead of the 2015 [British] Open by a stroke yesterday at St Andrews.
So Johnson is indeed over the crushing disappointment of three-putting his way out of the U.S. Open last month at Chambers Bay. He said he was, but five birdies, an eagle and no dropped shots proved the point.
Johnson sat a stroke ahead of a group of six on six under par that includes South African Retief Goosen, local favorite and 1999 Open champion Paul Lawrie, Australian Jason Day, England’s Danny Willett and Americans Zach Johnson and Robert Streb, who is making his Open debut.
Johnson said it took “not very long” for him to recover from the horror of Chambers, when he missed a 12-foot putt at the last to win, and then pulled the three-footer coming back, which would have forced a playoff against Jordan Spieth. Johnson rapidly evacuated Chambers Bay at the time, not waiting for the award ceremony that runners-up customarily attend, but now the South Carolina golfer is in the running for a major again, and the sense that his time will come gains momentum.
“The weather on Friday and Saturday is going to be very difficult,” said Johnson, 31, after his round, “so today I thought it was very important to get off to a good start and try to make as many birdies as you can.”
Johnson capitalized on an early 9:33 a.m. tee time before the winds picked up, playing with his U.S. Open nemesis Spieth and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama. Pushed by a gentle right-to-left breeze coming off St Andrews Bay, he blasted a 375-yard drive down the middle of the par-five fifth, and took a seven iron from 195 yards to set-up a 10-foot eagle putt.
“I played well on the front nine,” said Johnson, “and then coming on the way back in it played pretty difficult.”
Spieth, who looks every bit the world No. 1-in-waiting, also flew around the front nine in 31, five under par, before balancing two birdies with a pair of dropped shots on the way in to finish the day in a share of eighth place, two shots behind Johnson.
“I’m very pleased with the start,” said Spieth. “I saw a 65 in our group, and if D.J. keeps driving it the way he is… it’s hard to argue with someone who’s splitting bunkers at 380 yards.
“I believe in my skill set that I can still trump that crazy ability he has. When he stands on the tee I expect his ball is going to be miles down the fairway, but I also expect that I can birdie each hole when I stand on the tee. It just happens to be a little different route.”
It was slightly mischievous of the R&A to pair Johnson with Spieth, and the U.S. Open did not feature much in their conversations.
“There was no chat about the U.S. Open at all,” said Spieth, “other than talking about the differences in the courses here and there.”
That probably means the difference between the greens, between the bumpy, sub-standard surfaces of Chambers Bay, and the more classically smooth greens of the Old Course.
“I enjoy playing with Dustin,” added Spieth. “You know, it was an unfortunate ending to the [U.S.] Open in general, and today we just got off to a normal round of golf like always, and we were able to actually feed off each other and enjoy the day.”