By Larry Fine
ERIN, Wisconsin (Reuters) – Big-hitting Dustin Johnson was one of the biggest disappointments in Thursday’s opening round of the U.S. Open as the defending champion and world number one shot three-over 75 to languish 10 shots behind leader Rickie Fowler.
Johnson may deserve a pass since he arrived late for preparations at Erin Hills to be on hand for Monday’s birth of his second child with partner Paulina Gretzky in California.
He pronounced himself ready and confident on the eve of the championship, but the PGA Tour leader in numerous driving stats was too often forced to slash errant tee shots out of the tall fescue outside Erin Hills’ generous fairways.
Johnson double-bogeyed the 14th after leaving two balls in the willowy high grass and also took bogeys at the 15th and 17th after finding the fescue.
The 32-year-old American insisted his sub-standard round was due to problems on the greens, where he had trouble gauging the speed.
“I just didn’t putt very well. I missed a lot of really good opportunities. That was the big key for me,” said Johnson.
“If I don’t three-putt, I shoot even (par). If I just make one or two of the good looks I have, it’s a couple under. I didn’t hit it great, but I hit it good enough to shoot a good score.”
Johnson will have another crack at it on Friday, but failing to take advantage of Thursday’s relatively benign conditions could sabotage his chances of making the cut.
“I’m a little frustrated that I shot three-over,” he said. “But I didn’t play that bad. I just didn’t putt very good. It wasn’t that I was hitting bad putts, my speed was a little off.”
Johnson said he wished conditions were more challenging.
“It would be interesting if it played really firm and fast. Right now it’s really soft. The greens are soft, so you can get to the green with any club,” said Johnson.
“That’s why you’re seeing some big scores, because the greens are so receptive. I think if it got really firm it would definitely play difficult.”
(Editing by Andrew Both)