ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — The specter of disappointment was lurking, haunting Dustin Johnson, or so we thought. What Johnson thought, or so he told us, was, hey, he can’t do anything about the past, about the way he squandered the U.S. Open.
“I did everything I was supposed to do,” he said of his final-day putting disaster at Chambers Bay. “It wasn’t difficult to get over it. But you know I was definitely happy the way I played.”
The way he played at the U.S. Open in Washington State is the way he has continued to play in Scotland at the British Open, minus the yips. Wind, rain, bisected rounds and the presence of double-majors winner Jordan Spieth in Johnson’s threesome were of no concern for Dustin. Five thousand miles and a month away from his pain, Johnson is finding pleasure.
The second round that he couldn’t finish Friday because of a rainstorm was the round Johnson was able to finish Saturday in first place — after a nearly 11-hour play suspension for a windstorm that left golfers anxious and thousands of fans with little to do but hit the bars, which at St. Andrews are as famous as the Old Course.
What Johnson, maybe the longest driver in the game at the moment, hit was the ball, miles and miles it seemed, over the rolling linksland along the North Sea. He also may have hit the jackpot, leading the 144th Open into today’s third round by one very large shot over someone you’ve barely heard of —Danny Willett. He’s a Yorkshire man who actually went to Jacksonville State for a couple of years.
Johnson, driving the final 356-yard hole, named for one of St. Andrews’ historic golfing figures, Tom Morris, two-putted for a birdie three and a three-under par 69 for a 10-under 134. Willett, able complete his second round on Friday, as planned, had a 69, for 135.
Paul Lawrie, who also had to continue his second round Saturday, shot 70 for 136. Spieth, three-putting five times in the second round, shot 72 for 139, and the possibilities of a Grand Slam, winning all four majors in a calendar year — he already had taken the Masters and U.S. Open — are diminishing.
As the odds of Johnson winning his first major, after stumbling along the way when he had excellent chances, continue to grow. Five times previously, he has been among the top eight finishers, sharing second place in 2011 at Royal St. George’s with Phil Mickelson.
“I feel like I play very well here,” Johnson said. “Like any Open, it all depends on the wind.”
This one has depended on wind and downpours — Thursday, the start was delayed nearly three and half hours because the Old Course was flooded — and the calculations of officials from the Royal & Ancient Golf Club, who manage the Open. Or if you listen to some people, mismanage it.
Numerous players including Johnson, Spieth and Tiger Woods — he shot 75 after a 76 Thursday, 151, missing the cut of even par 144 — were left in the dark Friday, literally. Unfinished, they came back Saturday for a 7 a.m. start. At 7:32, after a Johnson putt blew past the hole and Spieth was heard on ESPN saying, “They never should have started,” play was suspended.
That’s a tough call, but even now, the tournament faces the dreaded extra day. The third round, normally Saturday, Is being played today. The fourth and final round is Monday, the first Monday finish since 1988.
When a golfer is performing well, the delays, the suspension, the mud in his eye are incidental. He has few complaints when he has a lot of birdies.
“I came back strong,” said Johnson of the incident on the 14th green, when the ball was blown backward after he struck it with a putter. Before play was halted, of course.
“I’m not the only one that happened to,” he said. “I wasn’t angry. I was almost laughing. So it’s nothing to worry about now. After the suspension I went back to the (hotel) room, dozed off, then got up and went to the gym.”