Eagle-eyed Johnson lays down marker
Big-hitting Dustin Johnson made an early statement ahead of next week's Masters with a scintillating eagle-birdie finish to the opening round of the Houston Open yesterday.
Johnson, seeking his first PGA Tour victory of the season, sank a 10-foot eagle putt at the par-five eighth, his penultimate hole of the day, before draining a 24-footer from the fringe at the par-three ninth to card a seven-under 65 at the Golf Club of Houston in Humble, Texas.
Johnson was surpassed late last night by Charley Hoffman stunning round of 64, but the 31-year-old American sat in a three three-way tie for second with compatriots Roberto Castro and Scott Brown, who both fired bogey-free rounds in calm but humid conditions ideal for low scoring.
Three more Americans - Johnson Wagner, Justin Hicks and Chez Reavie - opened with 66s in the final PGA Tour event before next week's Masters, the first of the year's four major championships.
"Overall, it was a great day," Johnson said afterwards. "I made just two bogeys and one of them was a mud ball on (hole) five. I hit a good shot, just mud took it left and got a kind of a bad lie there left of the green and I didn't get up and down.
"Then I had a penalty shot on the par-five 13th (his fourth hole of the day). Other than that, I felt like I played really solid today and holed some nice putts," said Johnson, who has recorded four top-10s in seven starts on the 2015-16 PGA Tour.
On a day of low scoring, Shane Lowry struggled to find a spark as his first round of level par 72 left him way down the field.
The Offaly man's steady if not spectacular opening day, which featured one birdie and one bogey, left him with some work to do to make the weekend cut mark.
Padraig Harrington's hopes of qualifying for the Masters are virtually over as he lies one shot behind Lowry and nine behind Hoffman in a tournament he needs to win to earn a place at Augusta.
Starting on the 10th, Harrington began with seven pars but dropped three shots between 17 and 18, however he did recover with birdies on the first and third but couldn't build on that momentum.
Jordan Spieth showed signs that he is coming into form just at the right time ahead of his defence of his US Masters title, as an opening round 67, put the young Texan within sight of the leaders.
However, double US Open champion Curtis Strange believes Spieth may never repeat the scintillating form he showed in 2015 that sent him rocketing to No 1 in the world rankings.
Everything the young Texan, who was among the late starters last night, touched seemed to turn to gold as he landed his first two major championship victories at the US Masters and US Open, and won the Tour Championship to sew up the lucrative end-of-season FedExCup Series.
"Last year was a phenomenal year for any player, much less for a 22-year-old," Strange said.
"It could turn out 20 years from now that could be his absolutely best stretch of his life. I don't think so, I hope not, but it very well could be.
"If he holds himself to the standard that he played for four or five months last year, it's going to be difficult to repeat day in and day out."
Rickie Fowler was on course to match Spieth's round of 67 until a double bogey at 18 left him with a 69, the same total as former Masters champion Phil Mickelson.