Dustin Johnson Leads British Open With Second Round Suspended
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland—The folks here love to say that in Scotland you often get all four seasons in one day. The second day of the Open featured three for sure: winter, fall and occasional flashes of spring. In the end, the rain-saturated, windblown Old Course accommodated enough birdies to produce a wildly eclectic leaderboard, featuring everyone from the putative defending champ King Louis Oosthuizen (-7) and the last king of Scotland, Paul Lawrie (-8), to assorted randoms Danny Willett (-9), Marc Warren (-7) and amateur Paul Dunn (-6). A pair of Masters champs are also in the fight, Adam Scott and Zach Johnson, both on -7, while gritty Jason Day (-8) continues his refusal to go away. But when darkness fell at 9:48 p.m. local time 42 players were marooned on the course, thanks to a morning rain delay of more than three hours. Chief among them was Dustin Johnson, your leader at -10 through 13 holes. Powered by metronomic ballstriking, Johnson has made only one bogey across two days, more remarkable given the fierce wind he had to play through Friday afternoon.
On any given day your Bubba Watsons or your J.B. Holmes may be about as long as Johnson—the Tour driving distance leader at 319 yards a pop—but into the wind DJ is by far the longest of the long because of his lowish, piercing ball-flight. When Johnson is driving it like this he reduces most of the Old Courses par-4s to simple driver-wedge affairs, and soft greens have allowed him to be pin-high on seemingly every hole. “He’s worked very, very hard on his wedge game,” says Johnson’s swing coach Butch Harmon. “He’s taken a weakness and is turning it into a strength. We’ve made the [wedge] swing a little shorter so he can accelerate through the ball. His distance control is perfect—he’s playing totally under control.”
In the marquee pairing of this event, Johnson thoroughly outplayed his U.S. Open foil Jordan Spieth, who missed a trio of short putts en route to three bogeys in the middle of his round. But Spieth characteristically fought hard to remain even par on the day and -5 overall. He finished Friday in style, riding the wind to reach the 614-yard par-5 14th hole in two. Like Johnson, he will have a long eagle putt when play resumes Saturday morning at 7 a.m. local time (2 a.m. Eastern). The forecast calls for some showers but it will be nothing like the deluge that hit St. Andrews throughout the early morning on Friday. With typical stubbornness the R & A sent off the first golfers at 6:32 a.m., but with ponds forming on the first and 18th fairways play was called 16 minutes later. “It was like D-Day,” said Thomas Aiken, who was in the 6:43 group. “When we got out on the range it was like, Are you serious? The putting green was flooded by the time we had got to the first tee.” The horn sounded as soon as Aiken teed off on number one. After an epic squeegee job by the grounds crew the restart came at 10 a.m. and with soft greens and little wind, creating the best scoring conditions of the day. Willett, Zach Johnson and Warren all took advantage. Says Zach Johnson, the 2007 champ, “I know Augusta is Augusta and some of the other tournaments are tremendous, but this is just pure.”
Warren, a likeable chap by way of Rutherglen, Scotland, was propelled by a vocal home crowd. “A couple of times today I allowed myself to look at the leaderboard when I joined the lead with a couple of other guys, just trying to soak up that moment,” says Warren, 34, a three-time winner on the Euro tour. “It doesn’t happen every day, and like I said, just tried to enjoy my name being there.”
That was hardly Friday’s only bit of nostalgia, as Tom Watson ended his illustrious career at the Open. Five times the champion golfer of the year—only Harry Vardon, with six, can claim more claret jugs—Watson was, fittingly, the last man to hole-out on Friday, playing the 18th hole in near-darkness. Tom Lehman, Matt Kuchar and Graeme McDowell were among the players who gathered behind the 18th green to pay their respects to old Tom. With rounds of 76-80 Watson will comfortably miss the cut when it becomes official Saturday morning—it is projected to be level par—and he is comfortable finally exiting the stage. “It’s not my time anymore,” Watson says. “It’s time for another generation to come through.”
Spieth and Rory McIlroy are doing a fine job of it but Dustin Johnson, 30, has as much game as either of them, making him golf’s greatest enigma. Johnson has proven he has the talent and determination to keep putting himself in contention at major championships, but the enduring question is whether or not he can close the deal. Harmon remains bullish, citing the personal growth he’s seen from his pupil that came with Johnson’s six-month exile from the Tour for what he called “personal challenges.” (GOLF.com reported the absence was due to a failed drug test.) Says Harmon, “It’s a different Dustin Johnson. He’s at peace with himself, his head is in the best place it’s ever been, he’s happy with his game, he’s happy with his life. He’s a different guy—he’s not the crazy Dustin Johnson everybody used to know. He’s matured. He realizes what he needs to do to get to where he wants to be, which is the best player in the world. And he should be there.”
In his typically low-key way, Johnson offered a parting thought on Friday night that should serve as a warning to the rest of the field: “I feel great. I’m in a good spot.”