Tuesday 24 April 2018

Johnson and Spieth in Open showdown

US golfer Jordan Spieth plays from a bunker on the 17th hole during his first round 67, on the opening day of the 2015 British Open Golf Championship on The Old Course at St Andrews (Getty Images)
US golfer Jordan Spieth plays from a bunker on the 17th hole during his first round 67, on the opening day of the 2015 British Open Golf Championship on The Old Course at St Andrews (Getty Images)
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Day one of the 144th Open Championship at St Andrews resembled the start of the Dublin City Marathon in which hordes of competitors dash off at the starting hooter and the multitude is bunched up for the first few miles.

The separation of those with the class and power to feature in the race to the finish on the last lap takes a while to sort out.

Such was the case yesterday where the morning starters plundered birdie after birdie with even a few eagles thrown in for good measure.

Most of the big names took advantage of their good fortune with the relatively benign conditions, and even some of the lesser lights helped splatter the leaderboard with red numbers.

Dustin Johnson, playing alongside Jordan Spieth, walloped his ball long and mostly arrow-straight down the fairways.

There was no sign from Johnson of a hangover from his failure to get into a play-off with Spieth for the US Open at Chambers Bay, as was evident by his seven-under-par 65, which included an eagle three at the 576-yard fifth hole.

Former Major winners Paul Lawrie (1999 Open) and Retief Goosen (US Open in 2001 and '04) struck an early blow for the veterans when they each signed for a 66.


American Robert Streb, who earned his PGA Tour card for 2013 via the Web.Com tour, made light of his status as an Open rookie, joining Lawrie, Goosen, Jason Day, Zach Johnson, and Danny Willett on that 66 bracket.

Spieth ignored the pressure that has been heaped on him as he seeks a third successive Major to send a message to those who stand in the way of his ambitions. That message translated to "I'm still the man to beat" after a 67 that could have been improved but for a couple of minor errors.

Credit to our own Paul Dunne, the 22-year-old Greystones amateur, who played lovely golf to register a three-under-par 69 to be the leading Irishman.

The four Irish professionals have work to do today to make the cut, after signing for 72 (Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington) and 73 (Shane Lowry and Darren Clarke).

Today Mother Nature will have a big influence on the weeding out of the wheat from the chaff.

Since Monday, the players have been warned of the foul weather to come today - the forecast is for rain from 6.0am to noon, with winds gusting up to 30-35 mph.

It's not what the morning starters want to hear, especially as the leading lights are out this afternoon.

Only the strongest will survive to clinch their place among the top 70 and ties that qualify for the weekend.

Dustin Johnson did not have that concern, and spoke afterwards about Chambers Bay and the aftermath of his near-miss.

"Like I've said a bunch of times about the US Open, there's really nothing to be upset about," he insisted.

"I played well. I did everything I was supposed to do. I mean, I was even hitting good putts.

"There was nothing you could do on those greens there to make the ball go where you wanted it to.

"The ball went wherever the greens wanted it to, not where you wanted it to. I hit the ball well. I put myself in the right positions, just you can't control what the ball is doing on those greens.

"It was a little disappointing not to get in the play-off at least, but I mean, yeah, I don't really dwell in the past too much. You can't really change it, so there's no reason to worry about it."

Johnson never had any worries around the unseasonally green and slightly yielding Old Course to post his 65.

"I just got off to a good start, played well on the front nine, and then coming on the way back in, it played pretty difficult.

"I thought the only time I was really out of position was on 16 and 17. I made probably a 10-footer on 16 for par, and then a 15-footer on 17 for par. But other than that I had good looks at birdie all day," he said.


How well he made use of those 'looks' at birdie as five fell to him on his front nine 31, and two more came on the 10th and 14th over the tougher back nine.

Spieth betrayed some mild signs of frustration, but he, too, was out in 31 and despite dropping a couple of shots on the homeward stretch, including one on the feared 17th, he delivered a lovely birdie three from 18 feet on the last hole.

"It was certainly nice to finish that way. I hit a drive that would have been in big, big trouble on any other hole. Luckily it was the 18th at St Andrews," said the Texan.

"I got a good number. I walked the entire thing off. It was, like, 92 yards.

"I walked to the green because we weren't sure from that angle how far we had.

"To see that putt go in was nice. To steal the one back from 17 and to shoot even par on the back nine, which once you turn into that breeze, is a good score," said Spieth.

The Masters and US Open champion has to take care of his own game and keep has a watchful eye on Johnson.

"I've played enough golf with him to where I believe in my skill set that I can still trump that crazy ability that he has.

"I expect when he stands on the tee it's going to be up there miles and down the fairway. I also expect that I can birdie each hole when I stand on the tee. It just happens to be a little different route."

The Open,

Live, BBC 2, 9.00

Irish Independent

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