Past U.S. Open champs Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson fall short in Round 1

US Open-Jordan Spieth-Dustin Johnson-Round 1 Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Sports

Past U.S. Open champs Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson fall short in Round 1

PGA Tour

Past U.S. Open champs Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson fall short in Round 1

 

ERIN, Wis. – His opening 1-over 73 at the 117th U.S. Open already signed for by lunch time, Jordan Spieth had a free afternoon ahead of him, but there was little mystery where he was headed: Directly to the putting green at Erin Hills.

“DJ (Dustin Johnson) and I will be on the practice green,” Spieth said. “We might have a pillow fight putting contest, just to see if we can spark anything.”

On a morning conducive to scoring on a layout set up conservatively for its U.S. Open debut, Johnson and Spieth, winners of the last two national Opens, struggled. Johnson spent too much time in the tall fescue, didn’t putt well and never recovered from an early double bogey at the 14th hole (his fifth), shooting 3-over 75; Spieth hit the ball beautifully but continually failed to convert, visibly frustrated by his opening 1-over-par effort.

For Spieth, the round continued a bothersome trend. Not since the 2016 Masters has Spieth, a two-time major winner in 2015, opened a major championship with a sub-par round. Spieth, 23, was not surprised that a player in the morning wave went out in 7-under 65 (which Rickie Fowler did), because deep down, he knew he could have done that himself. He hit the ball that solidly.

“I had 15 looks (at birdies), hitting the ball well,” said Spieth, who hit 13 of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens in regulation, but had 32 putts. “When you play really well, a lot of times you have eight or nine looks, true birdie looks. So you can definitely go out there and make plenty of birdies, even with the tough hole locations if you leave the ball in the right spots.

“I can’t change anything that I was doing. If I get that many looks, I normally shoot 8 under par, typically,” he added. “So there’s nothing for me to change other than just dial things in on the greens.”

Johnson, 32, didn’t hit the ball nearly as well as his younger Ryder Cup teammate. The World No. 1 and winner of three consecutive starts earlier this season before he tumbled down some stairs in Augusta, Johnson laid up into heavy rough left of the par-5 14th (his fifth hole), came up short on his third shot, and hit an awkward chip to about 50 feet, staying on the top level of the green, from where he three-putted. It was one of three three-putts Johnson had in the round. He played the four par-5 holes in 2 over.

“You’ve got to hit it in the fairway,” said Johnson, who didn’t arrive on site until Tuesday, having stayed at home as fiancée Paulina Gretzky delivered the couple’s second son, River. “I hit enough fairways today to shoot a good score. But I’ve definitely got to roll it better. I’m swinging good, everything feels good, I just need to make more putts here.”

Spieth played stress-free through his opening nine holes, displaying near-perfect golf up until he powered a 3-foot birdie putt through the left lip on the par-5 18th hole (his ninth) after nearly chipping in for 3.

From that point, Spieth’s momentum seemed to shift, and his final nine appeared to be a lot more work. In that regard, he had company in his group, as Johnson’s round was difficult and stress-filled from the get-go.

Johnson would hit nine fairways and 11 greens, spending far too much of his morning in the gnarly fescue. David Winkle, Johnson’s agent, was keeping track of his player’s visits to the tall stuff, finally surrendering when the count reached nine.

For sure, Spieth, too, has seen Johnson play far better than he did on Thursday at Erin Hills.

“He was just off with putter and he had one bad hole,” Spieth said. “Yeah, I played a lot of golf with him and have seen him at his best. And everybody has off days, one way or another.”

This one qualified as that. Unfortunately, the putters went cold for Spieth and Johnson on Day 1 of the U.S. Open. Lots of work remains to get to weekend, and back into the tournament. 

 

 

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