THEY were the recognised big hitters but this is a course that requires more than power to subdue it.
“You know, you’ve got to play well,” said Dustin Johnson, who was grouped with Bubba Watson and Nicolas Colsaerts and finished the day three under par and two shots off the overnight lead. “It doesn’t matter how you hit it. You’ve got to hit it in the right spot on the greens and stay out of the bunkers. That’s the main key. So you’ll see all the guys this week doing whatever they can to keep it out of the bunker.” Johnson managed that better than most but it was a round which took its toll on the trio.
The American took every chance to stretch as he patrolled the fairways and he touched his toes and rubbed and arched his back as he waited for his tee shots. This was a man with a history of back trouble. The kind of trouble which had kept him out of action in the past. But, if he was in any real physical pain, it didn’t curb his scoring. That cause was aided by the length he can deliver with his irons, boasting that he had hit a couple of 3-irons over 280 yards courtesy of his own power and the firm conditions.
“Well, it’s nice to be able to hit 3-irons off these tees, because you’re trying to keep it out of the bunkers, and, obviously, links golf is all about placing your tee shot in a certain spot. So my 3-iron, I would think, is a lot easier to hit to where I want it to than somebody hitting 3-wood or driver. So that’s definitely an advantage.”
What was far more evident was the mental anguish of his playing companions. Colsaerts already has his work cut out after he carded a 75, a couple of angry growls at himself making it clear how he viewed his day’s efforts. Although given the way the rest of the day’s scoring went it wasn’t as suicidal a round as he seemed to fear.
It was the fifth time this year that Johnson had been sent out in competitive action alongside Bubba Watson and the pair chatted as they went around, although one was definitely in better spirits. Johnson was plotting his way to birdies but, for Watson, the task was proving more arduous. He ultimately managed three only to have them undone by four bogeys before salvaging his round with an eagle at the 17th.
For all the torment and brain teasing thrown up by this course on the opening day, both Watson and Johnson can be content with their lot.
“Any time you score under par in a major, you have to be happy with it,” said Watson, who ended the day one-under.
“It’s not too windy just now but it is getting burned out and it’s the fastest it has been on a first day and the greens are really, really fast so it’s a nice score to start out with.”
He was certainly happier at the end of the round than he was in the heat of battle where weary headshakes peppered matters as missed opportunities were catalogued and he even tried to stare down a pin after he had failed to hole a birdie opportunity at the third.
Johnson, though, fared best. Rising above the turmoil which engulfed the duo negotiating the course alongside him, Johnson found some equilibrium, even declaring that the day’s demands had been fun.
“I always enjoy playing links golf, no matter what golf course it is. It’s a lot of fun to play one that’s really fast. I’m enjoying it. You’ve got to be really creative off the tee and coming into these greens. It’s just a lot of fun.”
And having come so close in previous years, finishing 14th at St Andrews in 2010, second behind Darren Clarke in 2011 and ninth last year at Royal Lytham, he has a decent Open pedigree. Still seeking his first major, does he think it will be this event that delivers it?
“If I play four good rounds, probably,” he stated. Majors aren’t won on the first day but they can be lost. In that sense, Johnson can consider it one down, three to go.