ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Jordan Spieth wasted no time seizing a rare opportunity to chase a Grand Slam, opening with six birdies in 11 holes at St. Andrews and keeping his name high on the leaderboard Thursday in the British Open.
And so did a familiar foe — Dustin Johnson.
Eight times zones and an ocean away from Chambers Bay, Johnson and Spieth picked up where they left off a month ago when Spieth beat him by one shot in the U.S. Open to capture the second leg of the Grand Slam. On this day, Johnson got the better of him with a 7-under 65 and looked like the player to beat at St. Andrews.
He overpowered the Old Course with such a blend of power and accuracy that Johnson hit wedge into all but three of the 14 par 4s. Three of them were into the wind. The other was No. 9, where he putted from just off the green.
Johnson had a one-shot lead over six players, including former British Open champion Paul Lawrie, two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen and Jason Day, playing for the first time since coping with symptoms of vertigo at the U.S. Open. Zach Johnson and Danny Willett played in the afternoon as the wind strengthened, making their 66s even more impressive.
Spieth and Louis Oosthuizen, who won the last time the Open was at St. Andrews, were among those two shots back at 67.
Thursday morning was suited for scoring, so it was critical Johnson, Spieth and all the other early starters post a low score.
“Everybody knows the weather Friday and Saturday is going to be very difficult, so today I thought was very important to get off to a good start and try to make as many birdies as you can,” Johnson said. “Because the next couple days, it’s going to be very difficult.”
The buzz came from the top of the leaderboard, especially with Johnson and Spieth making this feel like the U.S. Open, except for the location and green color of grass.
Spieth opened with two straight birdies and looked as solid as ever with the putter. Johnson also converted putts after wedges into so many greens for birdie, along with a 7-iron into 10 feet on the par-5 fifth hole for eagle.
Spieth managed just fine with great iron play and the putting that makes him the envy of golf at the moment. He now has made 53 birdies in nine rounds at the majors this year, an average of roughly one birdie every three holes.
Thumbnail photo via Steve Flynn/USA TODAY Sports Images