Early lead gives DJ shot of momentum at Open Championship

By Mike Kern
Published on
Early lead gives DJ shot of momentum at Open Championship

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- When last we heard from Dustin Johnson he was three-putting the 72nd hole at Chambers Bay from 15 feet to lose the U.S. Open by a shot.

Hardly the first time Wayne Gretzky's future son-in-law has figured out a way to come up just short in a major that might have had his name on it.

Scar tissue has been known to develop.

Thursday at the Old Course, Johnson was in a threesome that included Jordan Spieth, who did take home the trophy last month to get himself halfway to a Grand Slam.

Open Championship: Leaderboard | More coverage

And Johnson, a 31-year-old South Carolina native -- who's also had to deal with some well-publicized personal issues -- toured the front nine in 31 (three birdies and an eagle at the par-5 fifth) en route to a bogeyless 7-under-par 65 in the opening round of the game's oldest major, which he almost won in 2011.

So much for any lingering nightmares. At least so far.

Johnson leads by one over six others and is two clear of five more, a group that includes Spieth.

"I played really well [at Chambers Bay]," Johnson reasoned. "I couldn't control what the ball was doing on the greens there. There's really no bad feelings from that, only good. Then it carried over to [Thursday]."

Or maybe even better?

"Slightly," he quickly allowed.

It matched his best score in an Open Championship, which came in the second round last summer at Hoylake, where he couldn't break 71 any other day and finished tied for 12th.

"It's kind of hard to beat St. Andrews [as a venue]," Johnson, one of the longest hitters out here, said. "I think it sets up well for me. I'm very pleased with that. ... I expect to play well in every event I play in.

"We had a lot of fun out there. You always have a lot more fun when you're playing well. I mean, [Spieth and I] are good buddies. We like playing together."

They'll get to do it again this afternoon. Who knows? Maybe on the weekend too.

"It's not like he really messed up Chambers," Spieth noted. "It was just an unfortunate last hole for him. He's got as much talent or more than anybody. I expect when he stands on the tee it's going to be up there miles and down the fairway. I've played enough with him to where I believe in my skill set that I can still trump that crazy ability he has. It just happens to be a little different route.

"[There was] no chat about the U.S. Open at all, as I wouldn't expect there would be, other than talking about the differences in the course or here and there. [Thursday] 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."

Related: Spieth talks playing with Dustin Johnson | All videos

Johnson tied for 14th here in 2010, in his second Open, when he went 69-72-69-74.

"Everybody knows the next couple of days it's going to be very difficult [because of the predicted bad weather], so I thought it was very important to get off to a good start," he said. "It's going to be interesting, but I enjoy the challenge.

"I don't really dwell on the past too much. I mean, it was a little disappointing not to get in a playoff [at Chambers Bay] at least. You can't really change it, so there's no reason to worry about it."

One of the blokes tied for second is Paul Lawrie, who won in 1999 at Carnoustie in a playoff after Jean van de Velde took that infamous triple-bogey on the 72nd hole. Another is Jason Day, who's almost won a few majors and somehow was tied for the lead after the third round at Chambers Bay despite playing with vertigo.

The 46-year-old Lawrie hasn't finished higher than 26th in his past 15 Opens. He did that two years ago. He opened with a 65 in 2012 but didn't break 71 the rest of the week.

Thursday, his only bogey came at the 17th, which is never a sin.

"Obviously it was quite calmish this morning, so it's important to take advantage of that if you can," said Lawrie, who was the star of Arnold Palmer's four-man winning team in Wednesday's four-hole Champion Golfers' Challenge. "Knocked a few putts in. Very pleased. Hit the ball very solid, and it was what it was."

He tied for 17th at last week's Scottish Open, where he had three rounds in the 60s.

"It's always really cool to play in front of the best fans in the world," said Lawrie, the only Scot to win the Open on his home soil since Tommy Armour in 1931. "I mean, let's be honest. I don't feel more pressure. I feel the opposite, to be fair.

Related: Massive amount of rain pounds St. Andrews | Day 2 Photos 

"Obviously I've been doing this a long time. Right now I'm thinking about my lunch. I'm pretty hungry."

Day, who didn't have a bogey, was paired with Tiger Woods. Day beat him by 10. Not that you get any bonus points for that. At least not these days.

"I knew there was going to be a lot of eyes on me," said Day, who also went around with Louis Oosthuizen, who won here in 2010 and started with a 67 after coming from way back to nearly win at Chambers Bay. "I wasn't really thinking about the score. Everyone is out there attacking the course. I'm not thinking about falling over on my face again. I feel healthy, and I'm good to go.

"I don't have to answer those questions any more."

OK, then what about his mate Tiger?

"It's tough to see your idol struggle," Day admitted. "I still have to go out there and compete against him. He's why I chased the dream of becoming a professional. The good thing is I saw him struggle a little bit before and he came back and to No. 1. ... It's just depending on how much he wants it."

This article was written by Mike Kern from Philadelphia Daily News and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.