There are times watching Dustin Johnson when you wonder how he ever comes second. This was such a day, immense off the tee, laser-like with the irons, save for a tired swing that led to a bogey at his final hole, and keen as mustard with the putter. Not much else to this game, really.
On its maiden outing as host to a professional tournament for this US Open, Johnson smashed into the bleachers the idea Chambers Bay was a course to fear. Long and straight is the answer to the challenge of a track that rolls out at 7,900 yards. They might be his middle names.
An opening 65 for a share of the clubhouse lead with Henrik Stenson, who affected a two-shot swing with a 30-foot birdie at the last, was the worst it could have been. Johnson drove the green at 12 and was disappointed with birdie. His tee shot at 14 is probably still going, a towering strike down the hill towards Puget Sound that had the galleries clicking their fingers in awe. We shall have to wait to see how he responds should his output falter, but three more days of this and the field is in trouble.
“I just hit the ball really well, a lot of good drives, a lot of good irons, had a lot of good looks at birdie. I made a bad swing on nine. It was the only bad swing all day, and I still had a look at par,” Johnson said.
The conditions could not have been more forgiving for the early starters. Nil wind, overcast skies and plenty of run-out. The place looked spectacular but is not without problems. Course designer Robert Trent Jones Jnr has done a number on this old stone quarry, but when he laid it out he gave little consideration to the viewing public.
Get on the wrong side of the fairways here and you are looking at banks of fescue grass and little else. Some greens do not allow any proximity. Goodness knows how the par-five eighth looked on television, tucked away in a distant corner without a punter anywhere near it.
And you don’t want to get stuck at the crossing points either. The M25 flows more freely in rush hour. It is barely better for the players, with some built-in log-jams, particularly around the drivable 12th, which do none any favours.
It was a morning in which Rory McIlroy could have done with a trail bike, such was his necessity to scramble. A birdie at 11, his second, was followed by a hack out of the fescue at 12. A sand save at 13 presaged a dropped shot at 14 after he found the bunker that splits the fairway off the tee.
Since it is easier to hit the bull’s-eye on a dartboard, that was some going from the Ulsterman. Another reverse, missing a three-footer for par at the 15th, resulted from trouble in sand.
There was genius, too, like his approach at 16 which sailed through the ether in tandem with the freight train rumbling by to his right along Puget Sound. Most might have waited for the intrusion to roll through. Not McIlroy. A birdie was his reward, steering him towards the turn in level par.
Thereafter the internal navigation system adjusted to its surroundings. McIlroy was Johnson-esque on the way home in all aspects but the putting. Where Johnson’s ball repeatedly dropped, McIlroy’s stayed up, punishingly so at the seventh, where he missed another short one for bogey.
He was unlucky with his second at the eighth, which rolled to within 20 feet of the pin before falling off a shelf to the right and away down a bank. If you could translate body language it would start with an “f”.
As it would when his tee shot at his last rolled back into the sand, contributing a closing bogey. Two over is not a disaster but it could have been so much better.Reuse content