By Ann Miller, for PGATOUR.COM
KAPALUA, Maui — A jaw-dropping matinee performance blew Dustin Johnson to the top of the windblown Hyundai Tournament of Champions leaderboard on Marathon Monday.
After six practice rounds and three days of watching brutal winds wipe out the start of the 2013 PGA TOUR season, Johnson got revenge on Kapalua’s Plantation Course in Monday’s first two rounds.
He shared the first-round lead with Mark Wilson and Nick Watney at 4-under 69 in the morning, despite a trio of three-putts. When he sank a five-foot eagle putt on the 36th hole of the day, Johnson had a 6-under 66 and a three-shot lead over defending champion Steve Stricker.
The 66 looked uncommonly easy. The longest putt Johnson made was eight feet and that was for par. He two-putted for birdie on three holes and chipped within four feet three more times. On the final hole, he launched a 6-iron 243 yards and the eagle had nearly landed.
“I thought it was going to come up a little bit short, but it ended up fine, just perfect,” Johnson said. “It was rolling down there pretty close to the hole and I made it.”
Johnson’s scintillating performance, in winds that still were some 30 mph at times, was no surprise. At 28, he is trying to become the first TOUR player since Tiger Woods (1996-2001) to win a tournament six straight years out of college.
He had nine top-10s last year, including a win at the FedEx St. Jude Classic that got him the Hyundai invitation. He ranked fourth in driving distance (310 yards) and finished eighth in the final FedExCup standings.
“He’s such a good player and he’s got length on his side and he’s got a lot of talent,” said Stricker, who was suffering from a “shooting pain” down his left leg and limping noticeably. “It’s going to be tough to make up three shots on him here. I wish I was feeling 100 percent.
“I could be feeling better tomorrow, who knows? But you know, we never know, either. That’s why you play. I mean, three shots, two shots can be erased really quickly, one hole.”
Stricker turns 46 next month and has decided to cut his schedule “in half” this year. He is ranked 18th in the world, and the last time he did not break par at Kapalua was in 2002. He is 86 under in his last 19 rounds here.
Twenty of these players head to Oahu after Tuesday for the first full-field event of the year. The Sony Open in Hawaii starts Thursday at Waialae Country Club.
Johnson Wagner, who won at Waialae last year, has a share of 10th going into the final round. He was ninth at Kapalua a year ago.