Vy­ing for the top

John­son back in con­tention at Bri­tish Open.

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS -

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 im­pres- sive.

Spi­eth and Louis Oosthuizen, who won the last time the Open was at St. An­drews, were among those two shots back at 67.

Graham DeLaet of Wey­burn, Sask., shot a 1-un­der 71, while David Hearn of Brant­ford, Ont., was 2-over 74.

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 im- por­tant 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.’’

It was ev­ery bit of that for Tiger Woods.

A two-time Open cham­pion on these links, Woods hit into the Swilcan Burn on the first hole, didn’t make a birdie un­til the 14th hole and had to scram­ble to sal­vage a 76, his worst score in 13 rounds as a pro at St. An­drews. He was tied with 65year-old Tom Wat­son, who had a 76 in his fi­nal Bri­tish Open.

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 colour 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 7iron into 10 feet on the par-5 fifth hole for ea­gle.

They are play­ing to­gether for the open­ing two rounds, and they laughed and chat­ted as if this were Thurs­day at a reg­u­lar PGA Tour event.

“No chat about the U.S. Open at all, as I wouldn’t imag­ine there would be, other than talk­ing about the dif­fer­ences in the course,’’ Spi­eth said. “But I en­joy play­ing with Dustin. I’ve played a lot of golf with him.’’

AP PHOTO

United States’ Dustin John­son drives the ball from the 15th tee dur­ing the first round of the Bri­tish Open Golf Cham­pi­onship at the Old Course, St. An­drews, Scot­land, Thurs­day.

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