Gorman: Failure or fortune awaits Dustin Johnson
Dustin Johnson did what he does, crushing drives and shooting low scores in the first two rounds of a major golf tournament.
Unfortunately, part of that package is his penchant for missing putts for birdie.
What Johnson didn't do for his first 27 holes of the 116th U.S. Open on Friday could have ruined Oakmont Country Club's reputation as a golf course designed to keep red numbers off the leaderboard.
Just as impressive, Johnson bogeyed only once in 36 holes, shooting 4-under-par 136 for a share of the lead at the U.S. Open.
Johnson drove 16 greens in regulation in the first round, and his lead could have been bigger had he made more than five birdies in 31 chances.
“I felt like I hit good putts. It wasn't like I hit bad putts or my speed was bad. It's just tough,” Johnson said. “I felt like I left myself in good positions, too. If you're just a hair off, it doesn't go in. I felt like I was doing everything correct. I made some nice putts, too. I'm happy with the way everything went.”
That's always been the thing about Johnson: long off the tee, short with the putter.
One of the things, anyway.
Johnson is as famous for his life off the golf course as he is for his sizzling starts and colossal collapses in majors.
He is engaged to and has a child with model Paulina Gretzky, daughter of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky and actress Janet Jones. He took a six-month leave of absence from professional golf in 2014 amid rumors of failed drug tests.
Both issues have prevented Johnson from becoming golf's best player, something his talent indicates he can become if he gets his act together. Johnson has 11 top-10 finishes but still is seeking his first major championship.
The Great One walked the Oakmont course Friday, following Johnson's first round. But it was his future son-in-law who stole the spotlight, following a 3-under-par 67 with a 1-under 69.
Such starts have become as predictable as Johnson's shooting statistics. He ranks third on the PGA Tour from strokes gained tee to green but 46th in putting, and his answer to what he was most pleased with — “The way I drove it.” — is indicative of his attitude.
More troubling is his 2016 scoring average: Johnson leads the PGA Tour in the first round and ranks third in the second round but drops to 77th in the third and 57th in the final round.
Which is why Twitter was abuzz as Johnson carded 34-33 on his first 18 holes, then turned around an hour later and shot 34 to start the second round. That tied him for the lead with the little-known Andrew Landry, who needed only to sink a 10-foot putt on his final hole Friday for a 4-under 66 that is a first-round record in a major at Oakmont.
Is Johnson setting himself up only for another fall?
No stranger to Sunday meltdowns, Johnson still is seeking his first major victory because of his brutal final-round finishes:
• He took a three-stroke lead into the final day of the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, then shot 82 and tied for eighth.
• He had a one-shot lead going into the 18th hole in the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, but drew a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in a bunker and finished fifth.
• He made double-bogey on the par-5 14th that cost him the 2011 British Open at Royal St. George's, tying for second.
Adding to that misery was his finsh at the U.S. Open last year at Chambers Bay. On the 72nd hole, he missed a 12-foot, 4-inch eagle putt for the win and then a 4-foot birdie putt to force a playoff.
When asked if what happened at Chambers Bay weighed on his mind, Johnson quipped, “What happened last year?”
Johnson also blew the British Open at The Old Course last year, leading after 36 holes only to shoot 75-75 on the weekend.
It wasn't until the first hole of his second-round back nine, on No. 1, that Johnson finally bogeyed when his putt broke an inch before the cup. Johnson's start was the fourth best in U.S. Open history. Rory McIlroy owns the record for most bogey-free holes to start a U.S. Open with 35, finishing 16-under to win at Congressional in 2011.
Johnson might be halfway to a similar score, if not for his putting.
When Johnson sank a 12-foot, 11-inch putt on No. 6 for birdie to go 1-under and take a share of the lead, Fox Sports flashed a famous quote from Jack Nicklaus: “You can't win the Open on Thursday and Friday, but you can lose it.”
Dustin Johnson knows the reverse to be true, too.
Failure or fortune, his championship weekend awaits.