Johnson's hot start leads to 1-shot advantage
June 02, 2016
By Jonathan Wall, PGATOUR.COM
- June 02, 2016
- Dustin Johnson steps over a creek on the 14th hole, where he made his ninth of 10 birdies in the first round of the Memorial Tournament. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, Ohio — A few observations from Thursday’s play at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide, where Dustin Johnson leads by one shot after a 8-under 64 at Muirfield Village. For more on Round 1, click here to read the Daily Wrap-up.
JOHNSON COMES OUT FIRING
During his pre-tournament press conference, Jordan Spieth called Dustin Johnson "arguably the most talented player on the PGA TOUR."
Johnson certainly looked like it during his first round at Muirfield Village on Thursday.
The nine-time TOUR winner tallied 10 birdies en route to a 64 that saw him take a one-shot lead at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide.
Getting off to a hot start hasn't been a problem for Johnson this season. In his last five starts, he's opened with 64 or 65 on three occasions, including 64 in his last start at the AT&T Byron Nelson.
What he's been unable to do during the stretch is close out the week with a win.
Johnson attributed the lack of success to a balky putter that's been inconsistent at times. So far this season, he ranks 48th on TOUR (plus 0.317) in strokes gained: putting and 155th on putts inside 10 feet.
"[The putter] is something that this year I feel like I've struggled with a little," Johnson said, "but every other part of my game I feel like is in good shape."
On Thursday, Johnson had no problem making birdies in bunches with the flat stick. He managed to string together three straight birdies on Nos. 1-3 and 7-9, and four straight on Nos. 12-15.
"I felt like I just played well right out of the gates," Johnson said. "I hit great shots in the right spot on the greens and rolled in some putts. I hit it close on the first three holes and made all three of them, so that's always a good way to start your day."
Next up for Johnson is finding a way to keep the momentum going with the putter. If he can do that, he'll have a good shot at reaching double-digit TOUR wins come Sunday afternoon.
STEELE FINISHES STRONG
Muirfield Village's 18th hole typically ranks as one of the toughest on the course. But with only a breath of wind, light rain and receptive greens, players were able to take dead aim at the flag.
Brendan Steele took full advantage of the benign conditions, holing out for eagle from 154 yards — the only eagle of the day on the hole — to finish at 7 under.
"I told Christian, my caddie, these are shots I normally aim too far away from the hole, that I get a little too cautious," Steele said. "We picked a really aggressive line, made a great swing, and it paid off."
Steele, who took the last two weeks off, was aggressive from the start on Thursday, recording four straight birdies at one point (Nos. 4-7) on the front nine.
A double-bogey on the 14th threatened to derail his momentum, but Steele bounced back with a birdie on the 15th and another on the 17th before ending the round with an eagle on the closing hole.
"I tried to take a little different attitude into today than I've had," Steele said. "It becomes a little bit more like a job out here sometimes, which I didn't want it to be. I want to have a little bit more fun.
"Even when I made double on 14, I was trying to be like, all right, this is what it's all about. You just made double. You can still get in there and make a good swing and have a good finish."
MICKELSON'S BIZARRE DAY
Phil Mickelson had a round to remember on Thursday at Muirfield. For 13 holes, it was business as usual for the five-time major winner, who opened with five birdies and a bogey on his card.
Things quickly changed on the par-4 14th when his 133-yard approach shot hit the grandstands and ricocheted 55 yards behind the green and into the water.
"I could try to [explain the shot], but it probably wouldn't satisfy any questions I still had, " Mickelson said. "I had 133 yards to the hole, and I hit pitching wedge, and it kind of jumped on me obviously.
Forced to take a penalty, Mickelson dropped his ball 129 yards from the green — almost the same yardage he had initially — and hit sand wedge to 20 feet before making an improbable bogey putt.
Mickelson would add another moment to the highlight reel on the next hole.
Hoping to get home in two on the par-5 15th, Mickelson pulled driver and watched as his tee shot hit a marshal on the right side of the hole and bounced clear across the fairway into the left intermediate rough.
It wasn't until Mickelson approached the marshal that he realized what had transpired.
"I saw the ball shoot across the fairway, but usually when you hit somebody, you'll see people congregate," Mickelson said. "So I thought maybe it hit a cart or hit something, but it hit this guy in the head. He looked like Ali taking hits because he didn't go down. He didn't go down at all."
Mickelson took advantage of his good fortune, getting up-and-down from a greenside bunker for his sixth birdie of the day. He would go on to shoot 68 and sits four back of Dustin Johnson after the first round.
Jason Day talked about taking a more conservative approach this year at the Memorial. In previous years, the top-ranked player in the world played Muirfield Village in the same manner he normally does during social rounds with his friends, cutting off doglegs and taking aggressive lines to the hole.
He quickly learned that there's a difference between the two following a string of poor finishes at his hometown event.
"I think this year is more about taking more conservative lines off tee or conservative shots," Day said, "maybe throttling back a little bit here or there."
Day stuck to his word on Thursday, taking iron off the tee on a number of holes, including the par-5 11th — a hole he's typically used driver on in the past — which led to his third straight birdie on the back nine.
Through one round, the new game plan is paying off. Day made six birdies and an eagle on his way to an opening round 66 that has him in contention early on — a position he hasn't been in over the years at the Memorial.
Day said the plan is to stay patient and not lose focus the rest of the week, something he hasn't had any trouble doing this season. Through 10 starts, he's posted three wins and finished inside the top 25 in nine events.
"I can't focus on the end result," Day said. "I've got to focus on trying to get through tomorrow's round and then Saturday and Sunday. I'm very pleased with that because usually I've struggled here early, but I'm happy."
QUOTE OF THE DAYHe looked like Ali taking hits because he didn't go down. He didn't go down at all. He was just laughing about it.
CALL OF THE DAY
SHOT OF THE DAY
SHOT OF THE DAY
Brendan Steele's walk-off eagle is the Shot of the Day
SOCIAL MEDIA OF THE DAY
These photos were taken five minutes apart.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) June 2, 2016
10 birdies in 15 holes— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) June 2, 2016
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Dustin leads by 3. pic.twitter.com/qdpLl05RJ2