Elements conspire to test Dustin Johnson’s mettle

No doubt Dustin Johnson slept soundly on Thursday night. 

Elements conspire to test Dustin Johnson’s mettle

An opening round of 65 not only left him leading The Open but with heavy rain forecasted for yesterday morning, he also had secured the best half of the draw.

No one, however, could have predicted the intensity of the rainfall yesterday morning and who knows what effect the playing delay of over three hours had on Johnson? Suddenly the roles were reversed, with the morning players getting the day’s best conditions while Johnson had to prepare for a late start that guaranteed the worsening weather conditions as well as an early Saturday morning resumption in order to complete his second round.

In sport, they say that you can only “control the controllable” but for a man craving for an easy ride — this unforeseen development meant that his tournament aspirations had already become so much more difficult.

For those players who had “lucked out”, it was an opportunity to seize the moment. Danny Willet impressed me continuing where he left off yesterday but once he established the lead, he obviously tightened up. This is new territory for Willet but he is steadily beginning to become more comfortable in the major championship arena and the way he played yesterday suggests he wants to have a say in proceeding over the weekend.

So too quite obviously does our own Pádraig Harrington, who continues to baffle with glimpses of brilliance littered with mental intrusions. Already a winner against a stellar field this year on one of the PGA Tour’s hardest courses PGA National, he now needs to push on. Yesterday it took the possibility of elimination to get him focused before playing one of the best back nine holes to date on the toughest nine holes in the Open Championship. He deserves more success and hopefully this weekend he will “get out of his own way and finish strongly”.

Another man looking for some sort of salvation this week is Adam Scott. For a man of his standards, he has had a pretty abysmal 18 months, going from the highs of winning almost everything in Australia and becoming the world’s top ranked player to being the almost forgotten man.

Undoubtedly some of the reasons for his decline can be put down to the many wonderful distractions of being a new father but it doesn’t help matters when you are playing a global schedule and your family is based in either the Bahamas or Switzerland and reluctant to travel.

Nor did it help either when one of his closest confidants, his caddie Steve Williams decided to take a break away from the game. Williams is a robust character who will rarely get much credit for his actions but he is arguably the most successful caddy in the history of the game, having caddied for amongst others Greg Norman and Tiger Woods before he made the transition to Scott.

His mentoring and legendary attention to detail helped Scott secure his first major title — the US Masters — as recently as 2013 and now that Scott has secured his services once more, you can already see signs of his winning form returning.

Yesterday Scott played flawless golf. More importantly he had just 24 putts for his round and if he can keep up that level of putting consistency, then he will be a very hard man to beat over the coming days.

Scott is a complete golfer — someone with all the shots, having grown up in windy Australia. Given that St Andrews is likely to be a different test every day, it will suit his creativity. With Williams back on his bag, his game plan is almost guaranteed to remain sound.

That and the fact that he knows how to win major championships may well prove to be the winning formula for the title he covets most.

A word too for the most successful British golfer of the modern era, Nick Faldo, who played his last Open at St Andrews. Faldo was a loner for most of his professional career and someone very few cared to understand. His demeanour was standoffish and you felt that he was never comfortable doing the small talk. Never was this more apparent than during his abysmal Ryder Cup captaincy at Valhalla.

That said, he was a steely ice-cold competitor and apart from Berhard Langer, the consummate strategist. Fiercely determined, he famously reconstructed his game to meet the demands of winning major championships and with three Open Championships and three US Masters titles to his credit, he fully deserved the respect and recognition he received yesterday.

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Saturday, November 27, 2021

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