There had been much speculation in the build-up surrounding club selection. Given his power, people had been pondering whether Dustin Johnson would rely on his driver or an iron on the tees.
But when he sauntered on to the first tee, the in-form American had his putter tucked under his arm. Others may have made a thing of that. Not Johnson. He plays golf, he doesn’t play to the crowds.
Given that not even he would let rip with that, handing it over to his caddie to be replaced by something with a bit more bite, it hinted at his last-minute preparation. It is something he is likely to pay a bit more attention to ahead of the next three rounds.
By the time the world No 2 got started, other big names had already found their way back to the clubhouse or had the final green in sight. Monty had talked a good game, Justin Rose had played a decent one, while Jason Day had struggled. Bubba Watson had been licked by the Postage Stamp but, along with the likes of Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Danny Willett, he looked like he had done enough to keep himself in contention.
But the US Open champion said he considers himself the equal, perhaps even better than those guys. Stepping up for his opening drive, he just needed to prove it. Recent form suggested that would not be an issue. But on the day he was overshadowed by one of his two playing partners, with Martin Kaymer finishing the day tied for second place, on five-under-par.
There was little between the German and the American but this sport is all about fine margins and both Johnson and his other partner, Scot Russell Knox, who carded a 72, were on the wrong side of those.
Battering the ball long is part of Johnson’s game and with conditions benign, there was a growing hum of anticipation. Those who had tackled the course in the morning had taken full advantage of the welcome extended by the Royal Troon front nine.
The course should have been at Johnson’s mercy as he attacked the greens. Instead the first hole set the tone. Whacking a monstrous drive off the tee, it veered right, disappearing into the knee-high, straggly grass. An ever-growing search crew, which eventually numbered almost 20, including Kaymer and Knox and caddies, eventually found the wayward ball and a decent recovery shot gave him the chance to salvage something. But, far from clinical with his putter, he started his quest for back to back major triumphs with a bogey five.
“The first hole was just a poor swing but I still had a good chance to make four with an up and down but didn’t make it,” he said. “But other than that I felt I played pretty well. I made a lot of good putts but couldn’t just roll it in the hole.
“Obviously you have to hole some putts here. I felt like I putted well, it just didn’t go in. Everything was burning the edges.”
It was the kind of ill-fortune that may have prompted a fit of pique in others. The most demonstrative Johnson got was on the 11th, when he had passed up another birdie opportunity and treated the ball to a withering look of disgust.
While he had some scrambling to do, it was all about the putter. In the bunkers, he still managed to get up and within striking distance of the pin, while another haphazard drive on the ninth left him unsighted, on the public pathway. He emitted an understated ‘Oh’, which is about as good as it gets when it comes to the South Carolina man expressing his emotions, but still launched a lovely shot close to the pin.
He just couldn’t capitalise on so much of the hard work. Birdies at the sixth and seventh gave him some momentum heading toward the Postage Stamp but having coped with the problem of finding the tiny target area from the tee, he couldn’t hole out, having to settle for another par and another bogey on the 16th saw him sign for a level par round of 71, eight shots adrift of leader Phil Mickelson. If he was fazed, he didn’t show it.
The weather is about to change and he believes his luck will too.