Johnson sets up shot at redemption after sorting out 'personal issues'
Published 19/06/2015 | 02:30
The most controversial player in the professional game seemed perfectly at home at the most controversial course.
Dustin Johnson's five-under 65 set the tone on a surprisingly low-scoring start of the 115th US Open and handed the American a tilt at sporting redemption.
As the afternoon wave went out, Johnson was level with Henrik Stenson, who birdied the last.
Johnson will not admit it, but it is general knowledge that he tested positive for recreational drugs last August and agreed with the PGA Tour to take a "voluntary" six months off, which he was to claim was "a leave of absence" to sort out "personal issues".
Whatever the semantics, there is no doubt during this spell that Johnson rededicated himself to his profession.
This huge talent won the WGC Cadillac Championship in March and despite withdrawing during the first round in Memphis last week because of illness, came in as one the favourites.
The mind went back to his close call at the 2010 USPGA at Whistling Straits - another "man-made links" - when a two-shot penalty on the 18th for erroneously grounding his club in a bunker cost him a place in the play-off.
Johnson has been due ever since and the suspicion grows that this will be his week.
Two birdies on his last two holes would have given Johnson the first 62 in Major history and would have sent the United States Golf Association - notorious for holding par as scared - into a state of apoplexy.
However, this biggest of the big-hitters could only par the par-five eighth, although that actually felt more like a birdie. Johnson made a fine up-and-down, using the bank behind the pin. Then he bogeyed the ninth (his 18th) and was forced to share the advantage with Stenson.
Stenson is the only player in the world's top six without a Major title and his seven birdies and two bogeys suggested that he is peaking at the right time.
On his bag was Gareth Lord, who the day previous had become the first casualty at Chambers Bay when slipping on the 16th and spraining his wrist.
On a flat-calm morning the anticipated horror stories did not come to pass.
Patrick Reed shot a 66, and Matt Kuchar a 67 - the latter possesses the flatline mentality which could prove so vital here. This course is fast and firm and presents a sizeable challenge, even if the pin positions are not tucked.
It seemed like a US Open bridesmaid convention here as Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie, with nine runner-up finishes between, were taking yet another run at the altar. If the sight of the former in red numbers was hardly a shock, then the latter's trip down memory lane certainly caused a few mouths to drop.
The 51-year-old had a 69, and was dreaming of going one better than in 1994, '97 and 2006.
This is the Scot's first US Open in seven years, but having won the Senior US Open to qualify he arrived in town telling everyone that if he played as well as he did at French Lick in Indiana last month he could perform with distinction.
Despite the greens. Monty labelled them "poor" before he teed off and, in truth, he was being kind. Brown and blotchy they apparently putt better than they look, which is a good job as if they did putt exactly as they look it would be more akin to pinball than golf.
Mike Davis, the USGA executive director with his hands on the controls and his face on the telly, had applied the water overnight, drenching the layout to keep the conditions under control.
And early on, the pros tore in, with Mickelson picking up three birdies to the turn to bring tantalisingly into focus the trophy he needs to become the sixth player to complete the career grand slam. This was Phil the Thrill at his finest.
Alas, it became a little ugly on the back nine with three bogeys, but his wedge to four feet on the 18th . Nevertheless, the 45-year-old was content with his 69.
Montgomerie had four birdies and three bogeys. It could have been so much better, as tee to green he was quite magnificent, reminding us all of his ball-striking in the heyday.
But the putts were left short and his discomfort was obvious. And these greens will not be getting any better. (© Daily Telegraph, London)