PREVIEW: DJ puts Open heat on JD

Dustin Johnson
Dustin Johnson rips a drive in practice at Troon. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

Jason Day said recently that he felt stressed being No.1 in the world and Dustin Johnson might not be too far away from getting a taste of what that feels like.

The world rankings show that Day is No.1, but he is not the hottest player on the planet right now as the best gather later today for the 145th Open Championship at Royal Troon.

That mantle belongs to Johnson, the slow-walking, slow-talking American who at his past two starts has won his first major, the US Open, and the Bridgestone Invitational, a World Golf Championship event.

If world No.2 Johnson wins the Open Championship this week at Royal Troon and Day finishes back in the field, it is possible for them to flip-flop positions. How nice would it be to see them going down the stretch on Sunday, the hottest player of the moment versus the hottest of the past 12 months?

For Johnson, a perennial near misser before his US Open win at Oakmont a few weeks ago, it has been the dismantling of a reputation for poor nerve under pressure. At the time, he said a monkey had been removed from his back, and the win in Akron proved that it is real.

Where's the monkey? ''He's good,'' Johnson told the media today. "He's riding in the bag now.''

There is no doubt that Johnson is supremely confident now that he has shown he can close in a big event. Put that mentality alongside an awesome long game and a beautiful touch around the greens and it is a powerful package to say the least.

"I mean, I always feel like I'm the best player in the world, but that's just me,'' he said today. "I've got a lot of confidence in my game. Obviously I'm playing very well right now.''

For years, Johnson has been asked when he would win a major. Now that has passed, he is asked how it feels different, and his answer was instructive. "I don't expect any more from myself. I always expect to come out and perform and to contend. But I mean, it's definitely a little bit different coming out and not trying to win that first major. That's the biggest difference is I'm not trying to get my first victory at a major.''

A reporter asked if he felt that he was guaranteed winning if he played at his best. "If I have my best stuff, I believe so,'' Johnson replied.

The power is lethal. Royal Troon's first seven holes tend to play downwind, and at the first (367 yards) and the third (377 yards) for instance, he can get close, or on the green. He drove the first in a practice round and intends using driver on those holes this week, taking the cross bunkers out of play.

Royal Troon is soft -- it is not so long ago they were pumping water off the fairways -- and that means the long hitters can stop the ball easily on the greens with their short clubs and not have to rely on the bump shots that occasionally have brought American players to grief over the years.

Day, of course, is in the same category with his great length off the tee. Twelve months ago he had a chance at St Andrews, but when he faced a putt for a playoff at the 72nd hole, he left it short. That heartbreak pushed him forward to a year in which he won seven tournaments including his first major, but at the Bridgestone recently, he was missing fairways and scrambling, ending up tied third after he dropped four shots in as many holes.

He needs to hit it straighter this week and keep the golf ball out of the pot bunkers. Johnson was among the many players who have said the key to winning here is to stay out of the sand, with their penal, steep faces.

There are 11 Australians in the field headed by Day, but the player who is under the radar is Adam Scott, who has a great record of consistency at the Open.

Scott's past four years have produced a second (at Royal Lytham where he led by four shots with four to play on the last day), third, fifth and 10th. Yet he was not required to do a media conference this week and has rarely been mentioned in the media.

Troon is too wet to play stern and the greens are holding, so some low scoring is a possibility. Much of the scoring is done early in the rounds; when he made a playoff here in 1989, Greg Norman birdied the first six holes in a row on his way to a fourth-round 64.

But as Martin Slumbers, chief executive of the R&A said today, it is fascinating to see how the players write their game plans, right from the par-four first, where there is the option of a mid-iron to lay up short of the deep traps on the left, or the driver to reach the green. "There isn't one way to play it,'' said Slumbers of the course that has hosted eight previous Opens.

"You can quite often see in a three-ball three different shots, completely different ways how they've seen how they want to play it, and I think that's the beauty of links golf.''

 

The 145TH OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP FACTS

THE FAVOURITES

Jason Day (Aus)

Dustin Johnson (US)

Rory McIlroy (Northern Ireland)

Jordan Spieth (US)

Danny Willett (UK)

Bubba Watson (US)

 

THE AUSTRALIANS

Jason Day

Adam Scott

Marc Leishman

Scott Hend

Matt Jones

Marcus Fraser

Steven Bowditch

Nick Cullen

Rod Pampling

Greg Chalmers

Nathan Holman

 

RECENT WINNERS

2015 Zac Johnson (USA)

2014 Rory McIlroy (Nth Ireland)

2013 Phil Mickelson (USA)

2012 Ernie Els (South Africa)

2011 Darren Clarke (Nth Ireland)

2010 Louis Oosthuizen (Sth Africa)

 

AUSSIE WINNERS

Peter Thomson 1954, 1955, 1956, 1958, 1965

Kel Nagle 1960

Greg Norman 1986, 1993

Ian Baker-Finch 1991

 

THE COURSE

Royal Troon, a traditional Scottish links by the Firth of Clyde, has hosted eight previous Opens. The most recent, in 2004, was one by little-known American Todd Hamilton. Six of the eight tournaments have been won by Americans.

Troon is 7190 yards (6574 metres) and plays as a loop, like St Andrews, so that the first seven holes all tend to be downwind, then you turn back into it at the eighth and the last few holes, into the prevailing breeze, are tough.

The iconic hole of Royal Troon is No.8, the “Postage Stamp”, just 123 yards (113 metres) but surrounded by five pot bunkers and tricky to hit. It is the shortest hole on the Open rota.

 

PURSE

A record 6.5 million pounds, equivalent of $11.5 million, of which the winner receives 1.175 million pounds ($2.03 million).

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