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July 18 2013

11:32 AM

Dustin makes 3-iron count

Dustin Johnson is looking for his first major championship this week.

By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM

GULLANE, Scotland -- The 2-iron that short-circuited Dustin Johnson's run at Darren Clarke in The Open Championship at Royal St. George's two years ago won't soon find its way into competition again.

But the 3-irons and 3-woods he hit on Thursday during the first round of The Open Championship at Muirfield certainly put Johnson in pretty good position -- literally, as well as figuratively. He finished with a 68 that left him two strokes off the lead held by Zach Johnson.

Despite hitting just one driver, Johnson used the brown-baked turf to his advantage and averaged 304.5 yards off the tee. He found nine fairways and 14 of 18 greens while averaging 1.72 putts per round.

Johnson admitted he tried the 2-iron on the range earlier in the week -- "and it lasted about five minutes," the lanky South Carolinian said. He was only hitting it about 7 yards longer than his 3-iron so he decided not to take any more risk.

At Royal St. George's that Sunday, Johnson had just made two birdies and trailed Clarke by two strokes when he came to the par-5 14th. After driving in the middle of the fairway, he proceded to take out the 2-iron and hit it out-of-bounds on the way to a double bogey that sealed his fate.

"If I wouldn't have had one in there, it might have been a different story," Johnson said.

The seven-time PGA TOUR champ hit several 3-irons on Thursday that he estimated traveled 280 or 290 yards. He's playing in his fifth Open Championship and has three finishes straight of 14th or better, including the runner-up at Royal St. George's.

"The ball is going so far once it gets on the ground," Johnson said. "So just a little low 3-iron is going further than a 3-wood up in the air."

Johnson got off to a solid start on Thursday with birdies on Nos. 1, 5, 8 and 9 to make the turn in 4 under. But wat he called a "really poor approach" at the 12th hole produced his first bogey of the day, and it was followed by three-putts at Nos. 15 and 16 before he capped the scoring with an eagle at the 17th.

Although he missed those two short par putts on the back nine, Johnson felt good about his speed on the increasingly quick greens. And the 3-iron's performance was key.

"It's nice to be able to hit 3-irons off these tees, because you're trying to keep it out of the bunkers, and obviously links golf is all about placing your tee shot in a certain spot," Johnson said. "So my 3-iron, I would think, is a lot easier to hit to where I want it to than somebody hitting 3-wood or driver. So that's definitely an advantage. I can hit more drivers, but I just choose not to."

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