Dominant Johnson displaying the full range of his substantial talent
Impressive 67 in second round puts world number one in control at the US Open
Dustin Johnson in action during the second round of the 118th US Open Championship at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, New York. Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA
The past, the present and the future all shook hands when it was over.
They were on the ninth green and a second round which had taken us by surprise, with low-lying grey clouds which doused unsuspecting tee-shirted spectators and some players who’d neglected to include raingear or even umbrellas in their planning for the day, had acted as a showcase for Dustin Johnson’s golfing majesty. He is, most assuredly, the man of the present.
Tiger Woods, the greatest player of his generation, someone with 14 Major titles to his name, must have looked at Johnson and thought of himself in the past. A dominant figure, in control of his own destiny.
Justin Thomas, only 25, but already with a Major title in his possession, knows what it is like to be the world number one. It was he who possessed the honour before Johnson reclaimed it last month. Thomas will have his day again in the future.
But after a second round watching the current incumbent in action, Thomas described what he’d witnessed in simple terms.
“He’s just hitting the fairways, keeping it in front of him, and he’s playing DJ golf,” he said.
DJ spins things to his own tune these days. And, after his runaway win in the FedEx St Jude Classic in Memphis last week, Johnson has kept going on in his own world, his own zone.
The 6ft 4in American – who can bomb it off the tee when required, but who also possesses soft hands when required in the short game – shot a second round 67 for a midway total of four-under-par 136 that put him in a different place to everyone else.
Woods, who once upon a time was the man everyone stood back to admire, admitted of his usurper: “Dustin is in complete control of what he’s doing. He’s hitting the ball so flush and so solid. It was good to see because I watched a little bit of it last week [on television] and he was doing the same thing down there
“But he’s brought it up here and is doing it under these conditions, and he’s got beautiful speed on the greens. Every putt looked like it was going to go in. Even though it didn’t, [they] just had that look and that pace.”
For all the world, it seemed as if Johnson was at times playing a different course. The rough didn’t exist. What bunkers? And when he did get out of position, he accepted his medicine and provided his own cure. On the 13th and 14th holes – the fourth and fifth of his round, Johnson’s short game enabled him to get up-and-down by pitching and putting for pars.
On the 17th, he made a sand save. On the 18th, he rolled in a 12-footer to save par. When he had to, he found a way to grind a score.
But, for the most part, Johnson’s game was played with a freedom that was at odds with the elements. He talked to his brother, Austin, who is also his caddie. He talked to Tiger. He talked to Justin Thomas . Most of all, he kept in his own world and played the shots that needed to be played; 67 of them in total.
JT, the PGA champion, watched much of it as he went about his own business.
“He’s playing well. You know, he’s gotten a couple breaks, just things here and there. It happens any time anybody wins, to be perfectly honest. But it’s not anything groundbreaking or anything crazy. It’s just, you know, we’re all fortunate when we hit a ball offline and have to look for it that we have a couple more people to help look than other groups or if I would be playing a couple years ago. So it is what it is,” said Thomas.
Johnson – a winner of the US Open at Oakmont two years ago, when he made the most of a break that enabled him to gain relief (back onto a fairway) after his drive into the heavy rough in the final round was blocked out by a television tower – has mostly made his own breaks, though, in his quest to claim a second Major of his career.
“You’ve got to play really good golf if you want to shoot a good score, and I like where par is a good score on every hole no matter what club you got in your hand, what hole it is. A par is a really good score,” said Johnson of plotting his route to a possible win.
For the past two days, DJ had the eyes of Woods and Thomas on his each and every move.
“It doesn’t matter who I’m playing with, I want to play well. I felt like I played really well the first two days . . . as I get older, I want to make things as easy as possible, even though they don’t get any easier, but just easier on myself,” said Johnson, who kept his focus on the task to hand.
He’s halfway there.