PINEHURST, N.C. — Dustin Johnson shot his first round of par or better in a U.S. Open since 2011, and he was reminded what an under-par round can do for him in the national championship.
Johnson shot a 1-under 69 Thursday at Pinehurst No. 2 and is one of 10 players tied for sixth, four shots off Martin Kaymer’s lead but just a shot out of second place.
The 69 is the Coastal Carolina University alum’s best opening round in his seven U.S. Opens, and matches his second-best U.S. Open round among 23.
Johnson shot just one round better than a 74 in the last two years in six combined rounds at Olympic Club and Merion, both of which are somewhat quirky courses that didn’t allow him to hit driver off the tee very much.
One of the longest hitters in golf, he was more aggressive off the tee Thursday.
“I hit driver on a lot of holes,” Johnson said. “On the short holes like 1, 3 and 13 I hit iron off the tee, other than that I’m pretty aggressive off the tee. I feel comfortable with the driver and like hitting driver on this course.”
He toned down the aggressiveness on his approach shots into greens. “I’m trying to always miss it on the correct side where I’m not short-siding myself,” he said. “I think I did a good job of that today and I’m going to continue to try to do that. You might have a couple shots per round where you feel like you can kind of attack the flag, but you don’t have many opportunities to do that.”
Johnson birdied the first hole with a sand wedge to 20 feet, and used his length to record birdies on the course’s two par-5s, getting up and down from the front of the fifth green and up and down from a greenside bunker on the 10th.
He overcame a tough break on the par-3 sixth when his tee shot hit a microphone to the side of the green and bounded over a bunker, coming to rest a couple feet beyond the bunker lip amidst dirt and vegetation. He chipped across the green to 4 feet and saved par.
Johnson bogeyed the eighth hole to fall back to 1 under before his birdie on the 10th. He again fell back to 1 under with a bogey on the 13th, flying the green with an approach shot on the shortest par-4 on the course at 385 yards and missing a 12-foot par putt.
He rebounded with a 60-degree wedge from 100 yards to 15 feet on the 450-yard par-4 14th for a birdie, but gave the stroke back at the 208-yard par-3 15th where he left a 30-foot putt from the fringe 8 feet short and burned the lip with his par putt.
“It always can be better, but I’m happy with my position,” Johnson said. “I thought I played really solid. I putted well and hit a lot of good putts, so I’m very happy with my round. I made two bad bogeys on 13 and 15, but other than that I played really solid.”
A rude introduction
Needless to say, Andrew Dorn’s first round in a U.S. Open didn’t turn out the way he was hoping it would.
The Coastal Carolina University rising senior made seven bogeys, a triple bogey, and one birdie while shooting a 9-over 79. Having won the North and South Amateur at the course last year, and with his game sharp entering the tournament, he had higher expectations.
“It is disappointing, but it’s all a learning experience,” Dorn said. “It’s my first time here. You have to take it and move on, tomorrow’s a new day. I’ve got another round tomorrow to see what I can do, play well and see what happens.”
Dorn’s worst swing of the day came on the 180-yard par-3 ninth, where he hooked his tee shot out of bounds, leading to a triple-bogey 6. “I didn’t even know you could lose a ball on this course, but I found a way to,” Dorn said.
The triple came after Dorn had bogeyed holes 3, 5, 6, 7 and 8. “I played well, I just had a few holes there in the middle of my round that killed me,” Dorn said. “I hit it in bad spots and you can’t recover from the areas I was in. You chip it on the green and try to make a 25-footer for par.”
He recovered beautifully on the back nine, however, shooting a 1-over 36 with a birdie on the par-5 10th and bogeys on holes 11 and 15. “After that [triple] I recovered well and played a solid back nine,” Dorn said. “It’s something to build off tomorrow.”
He tried to take a step back after mistakes and be patient throughout the round, but he managed to relieve some frustration on the 620-yard par-5 10th hole, reaching the green in two with a driver and 3-wood and two-putting.
“I didn’t even think in the practice rounds that it was reachable, but I was a little angry and I hit the two shots pin high to 40 feet,” Dorn said. “I got a little frustrated in the middle of the round. Holes 5 through 9, I tried to stay patient as much as I could, and I think it showed when I rallied and played 1-over on the back nine.”
Scott’s Open woes
Adam Scott has risen to No. 1 in the world, and his performances in majors over the past couple years have played a large role in his ascension.
Scott's 2013 Masters win is one of his four top-10 finishes at Augusta National to go with three top-10s each at the PGA Championship and British Open. He tied for second at the British Open in 2012 and finished third last year across the pond. His last three PGA Championship appearances have produced finishes of seventh and ties for 11th and fifth.
But, somewhat inexplicably, his record in the U.S. Open hasn’t kept pace.
Scott is playing in his 14th U.S. Open this week, and a tie for 15th in 2012 at Olympic Club is his only top-20 finish. He has missed the cut six times, and amazingly broken par only once in 37 U.S. Open rounds. The trend continued Thursday, as Scott opened with a 3-over 73.
“Certainly I haven't had the best record at the U.S. Open,” Scott said. “It's hard to put a finger on a lot of it. . . . But I’ve tried to improve my own expectations in majors the last few years, and I think I've done a good job, but maybe not quite as good at the U.S. Open. However, I felt at Olympic I played very well the last 60 holes or so after a really bad start on Thursday, and the confidence grew last year.
“Maybe it's coincidence that I haven't had my best stuff at a U.S. Open. But I certainly feel like where my game's at now, and the past few years, I should be able to compete here. I'm trying to build a game that can play anywhere.”
Scott is tied for 68th, and was disappointed with his putting but not his ball-striking. “I think I played a little better than what I ended up shooting,” Scott said. “I’m happy with how I hit it tee to green. If I can do that the next three days, and sharpen up a bit on the greens and around, I’ll be in great shape by the end of the week.”
Justin Rose’s defense of his 2013 U.S. Open title got off to a shaky start Thursday, as his round of 2-over 72 included a chunked chip shot that you’d expect to see on the weekend at a municipal course rather than at a U.S. Open.
Rose teed off on the 10th hole and rebounded from a 4-over 39 on his opening nine with birdies on the first, third and fifth holes to pull back to 1 over. On the eighth hole, Rose had about a 70-foot chip to a middle pin and hit the shot about 20 feet, allowing the club to fly out of his hands to the left on his follow through and looking to the ground in amazement.
“That wasn't the nicest feeling,” Rose explained. “I mean, I looked at the lie and I knew that was a possibility, but I also knew that I was trying to play an aggressive pitch shot, land it up on a shelf and check it. I knew it was the high premium shot. But I went for it and obviously it went terribly wrong. … That was a hang-your-head moment, I suppose.”
His next chip on the eighth nestled next to the hole for a bogey, and he missed a 4-foot birdie putt after a stellar tee shot on the par-3 ninth to close out his 72, which has him in a tie for 50th.
“Except for the eighth hole, I hit every tee shot just as I wanted to,” Rose said. “I’m swinging it much better than I have been. I played the par-3s really well. Just my short game was very poor. I just have to work on that; get that sharp and I feel confident for the rest of the week.”