Tuesday 20 March 2018

On-song DJ looks ready to deliver Open double at Royal Troon

Dustin Johnson hits a bunker shot during a practice round ahead of today’s Open Championship first round at Troon. Picture Credit: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
Dustin Johnson hits a bunker shot during a practice round ahead of today’s Open Championship first round at Troon. Picture Credit: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Is it possible that when the R&A film of the 145th Open Championship premieres, it could be titled: 'Rory, Interrupted'?

From the perspective of young master McIlroy who lost out through injury on defending his title at St Andrews last year, that would be ideal - a tale of the crown prince toppled from his throne, but eventually restored as ruler of the golfing realm.

If he is to bridge the gap between the triumph of 2014 at Hoylake and Royal Troon 2016, McIlroy must defeat a host of threats, predominantly from the big names at the head of the world rankings, and then hope to avoid the proverbial 'springer' jumping out of the pack.

Ben Curtis in 2003 at Royal St George's and Todd Hamilton, the 2004 champion at Troon, are the epitome of one-hit wonders who can upset the odds.

The two Americans came in unheralded, they walked off with the Claret Jug, and never came close to contending again in golf's oldest Major championship, but credit to them.

They shot the lowest score of the relevant weeks and that is all that counts.

I may be tempting fate, but the likelihood of a Curtis/Hamilton winner this week is very small.

The quality of the star players such as McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson to name but a few, will surely come to the fore, particularly on a course which can bare its teeth but is not a monster.


The form player is, of course, Dustin Johnson. His US Open win followed by the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in his first appearance after Oakmont makes the laconic, 6ft 4ins man of few words a very strong candidate for further success.

If golf, in essence, is a simple game, Johnson fits it perfectly. No in-depth analysis, no musings on the internal workings of his mental game.

He keeps his approach uncomplicated, can smash a tee shot miles down the fairway and has a much overlooked but impressive short game.

The DJ method can be summed up by a phrase he was overheard saying to his caddie and brother Austin at a recent tournament: "Time for me to let it go, bro" as he smoothly moved into his set-up before launching another exocet into the distance.

That said, Johnson is not a machine. He concedes that he does feel stressed at times on a golf course.

He has fallen short enough times before finally making the breakthrough to know how the gut can tighten and the decision-making become jumbled over the back nine on a Sunday in a Major.

"For me coming down the stretch, I definitely feel it because I want to win and it means a lot to me.

"I do get nerves, or stress, or whatever you want to call it, but I like it.

"Like, I think it's a good thing. If you didn't get nervous, then something's wrong because then it doesn't mean anything to you. So it's just something that you've just got to figure out a way to deal with," he said.

His main opposition - McIlroy, Day and Spieth - all have high hopes, but interestingly discussed the areas they need to improve.

First, the positive. On putting, McIlroy said: "I've had two of my best putting weeks recently.

"I had my best putting week on the PGA Tour a few weeks ago at the Memorial, and I had one of my best putting weeks on the European Tour at the French Open the last time I played."

On his strategy: "I think I've become more conservative. I've tried to play smarter. I still feel like if I play smartly, I can still make enough birdies to win tournaments.

"I feel like one of the big things this year is why I haven't won more is because I've made enough birdies, but I haven't limited the damage. I've made too many bogeys.

"I definitely think one of the criticisms I have on myself this year is maybe not being aggressive enough and committing and trusting myself.

"But I feel like with the things that I'm working on in my swing, hopefully it's this week where I start to trust myself more with my swing, and I trust the shots that I'm trying to hit, and trust that more times than not, I can pull them off."

Day spoke about the need for patience and keeping his ego in check as regards going for shots that could err on the risk rather than the reward factor.

"Sometimes you stand up there and think you can play shots that are not percentage shots, and being able to hit away from certain locations.

"Even though you want to take them on, and hit that heroic shot and turn out to be the victor, sometimes it's just not the right time. That's kind of conquering your ego a little bit," he said.

Spieth suggested he has not yet got into the state of mind of last year when he went to St Andrews very confident he could win a third successive Major after his triumph at the Masters and US Open.

"Yes, it's mostly mental. I know right now at this present moment, I'll be brutally honest with you, it's not the same feeling I had when I was getting ready for the Open Championship last year.

"I believe in my ability that if I'm in contention, that I can bring my best stuff and take home the trophy.

"As regards the ability to get into contention, I'm a little hesitant with tee to green, versus last year I had just come off a win at the John Deere, striking the ball great.

"It's just a matter of not making many mistakes and just getting into a rhythm," said Spieth.

Open Championship, live, Sky 1/Sky Sports 1/eir Sport 1, 6.30am

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