Sunday 21 January 2018

Johnson throws down the gauntlet to McIlroy and Spieth

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland. Photo: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland. Photo: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

William S Callahan

Dustin Johnson, dubbed "arguably the most talented player on the PGA Tour" by Jordan Spieth, lived up to that billing as he set the pace in round one of The Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village, Ohio yesterday.

Early starter Johnson scorched around the course that Jack Nicklaus built and owns in 64 blows - eight under par - to top the leaderboard before half the field had teed off.

Brendan Steele later filed a 65, rounding off with an eagle two on the 18th when he holed his 8-iron approach shot from 154 yards.

Spieth, who pipped Johnson for the US Open last year, is convinced that his fellow American has what it takes to win regularly.

"I think it's a matter of time. He's an incredible talent that's going to win many more times," said Spieth.

World number one Jason Day started his bid for an eighth win in 18 starts with a very comfortable 66, joining Hudson Swafford, Danny Lee and Matt Kuchar just two behind Johnson.

Meanwhile, Spieth and Rory McIlroy, the respective World No 2 and No 3, left the course knowing they can do better, but no serious damage was done to their chances of contending this week.

Like Day, who won The Players Championship, they came into The Memorial off the back of tournament victories in their last outings - the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (McIlroy), and the Dean & Deluca Invitational (Spieth).

Yesterday the Irishman and the American were paired together along with Justin Thomas in a marquee morning groupings

Instead of the expected birdie-fest, the round evolved into a bit of a struggle for McIlroy and Spieth, who both started on the 10th hole.

McIlroy ended on a positive note with birdies on the par-three eighth and the 411-yard par-four ninth, his 17th and 18th holes for 71, one-under par.

The Holywood man reverted to the orthodox putting grip which he reckons will give him a better feel for pace in the US Open at Oakmont, which starts on Thursday week.

"At the end of the day I made six birdies out there but I had five dropped shots," he said.

"I felt like I hit it well enough off the tee to give myself opportunites to hit it close to the pins, and for most of the time I did that, but I just hit a few loose shots, and that's what cost me."

On the putting issue, McIlroy revealed that his putting stats at The K Club helped persuade him to return to a conventional grip on the short stick.

"I won the Irish Open a couple of weeks ago with 127 putts for the week, so I didn't putt particularly well," he explained.

"I knew I needed to make a change and I felt like my pace wasn't really good with left hand low.

"Going into this week, the greens are fast, but going into Oakmont the greens are just so fast there, and you have to have so much feel and touch, it felt like going back to conventional was going to give me the best chance."

Spieth scrambled well to reach three-under playing the last, but was bunkered off a poor wedge approach, and took bogey to close on 70.


Meanwhile, Michael Hoey shot three-under par 69 to lie just two shots off the leaders in the Nordea Masters in Sweden.

Paul Dunne shot 70, and Peter Lawrie finished on one-under par 71.

The problem for the Irish is the packed leaderboard, with six players all tied for the lead on 67 - Marc Warren, Florian Fritsch, Clement Berardo, Andrew Johnston, Sebastian Gross, and Scott Henry.

Another eight shot 68, including England's Matt Fitzpatrick, Ross Fisher and Lee Westwood.

Nordea Masters: Live, Sky Sports 4, 10.0am

Memorial Tournament: Live, Sky Sports 4, 8.30pm

Irish Independent

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