US OPEN runner-up Dustin Johnson insists he is over his Chambers Bay heartache and ready to seize a first Major victory after he set the pace in the Open Championships yesterday.
Johnson took advantage of good early weather at St Andrews to card a bogey-free 65 for the outright lead on seven under par, one shot ahead of a group that included 1999 winner Paul Lawrie and England’s Danny Willett.
The world No4’s fellow American Jordan Spieth, who pipped him to the US Open last month and is bidding to become only the second man to win the season’s first three Majors, was just one stroke further adrift.
Johnson also led after the first round at Chambers Bay and only saw his hopes dashed when he three-putted the 72nd hole, though the big-hitting 31-year-old is adamant he has overcome that setback.
“At Chambers Bay for the US Open I played well, did everything I was supposed to do, but it’s tough when you hit good putts and doesn’t go your way. I’ve moved on from that now for sure,” he said. “Any time you shoot 65 it’s very pleasing. I played well and conditions got tougher. I got out or position a couple of times but managed to save a couple of pars and I had close looks at birdies all day.”
Spieth, who assumed favouritism in the absence of injured world No1 and defending champion Rory McIlroy, made light of hurried preparation to profit from the calm early conditions.
“I played the front nine exactly how I mapped it out,” the 21-year-old said. “We did some good preparation but if the wind changes direction it could be a completely different course. It will not be a birdie fest.”
Lawrie, who took advantage of Jean van de Velde’s infamous collapse at Carnoustie in 1999, shot five birdies on the front nine and would have tied with Johnson but for the 46-year-old’s bogey at 17.
Former English amateur champion Willett, 27, eagled the 10th on his way to a 66, a score matched by two-time US Open winner Retief Goosen, world No9 Jason Day, and Americans Zach Johnson and Robert Streb.
“It’s been a good day,” said Willett. “I played some really solid golf and I gave myself chances to make birdies and I got a lot of pars.”
Australian Day, a three-time Major runner-up who collapsed with vertigo at the US Open yet still battled on to finish ninth, declared himself fully fit and “feeling good” after his bogey-free outing.
Joining Spieth on five under were South African former Major winners Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, American Kevin Na and his countryman Jordan Niebrugge, the highest placed amateur.
Three-time winner Tiger Woods suffered a miserable return to St Andrews, shooting a four-over-par 76.