RIDGELAND, SC () – Dustin Johnson got off to a fast start Thursday at Congaree in his home state of the Palmetto Championship, shooting a 6-under 65 that left him a shot behind leader Wes Roach.
Johnson, the world’s highest ranked player and a native of South Carolina, had not played since missing the cut the last time he finished it in Palmetto State at the PGA Championship on Kiawah Island last month.
Johnson pearls that he may have a share of the lead before Roach, a 32-year-old seeking his first PGA Tour victory, rolled into a 19-foot football for a forward birdie on the 16th hole.
Still, Johnson had an even, bogey-free round in the field’s first attempt at Congaree Golf Club as a replacement tournament for the canceled RBC Canadian Open, interrupting another straight season due to COVID-19 concerns.
Roach, who shared time on PGA and Korn Ferry tours this season, shot his lowest PGA Tour round since November 2019. He was one stroke ahead of Johnson, Doc Redman, Chesson Hadley and South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen.
Roach eagled par-5 fourth, holes out from 105 yards on the 633-yard hole.
“I handled everything pretty well,” Roach said. “I ran it well, I puttted as well as I did in a while, and I managed it … on the fourth hole, so that was a good bonus, too.”
Johnson was heading in the wrong direction on the Ocean Course three weeks ago and missed a major cut for the second time in as many months. But if anyone doubted his readiness for next week’s US Open, Johnson easily brushed it aside with his star-studded play over the solid fairways and curvy greens on the 4-year-old Tom Fazio course.
At Congaree, he had four birds in a seven-hole stretch, all on putter 10 feet or less including a two-putt bird on the drivable, 370-yard third. Johnson chipped in from 82 yards out to his last birdie at No. 9 to tie Redman to the lead among the morning starters.
Johnson only thought of a couple of saves when he hit the shot and was overjoyed – yes, as overjoyed as the cool, calm Johnson can be – as it disappeared in the cup to his lowest round since shot 65 in the second round of the Champions Tournament in January last year.
“I felt like I’d been swinging well for a while now, just not really seeing the results or seeing the scores,” Johnson said. “Made a couple of putts, but yeah, I mean just play solid. Finally put a round together.”
Redman was the first to reach 6 under with a run of four birds over five holes on his nine backs.
Hadley’s proach on his penultimate hole, the eighth, was 2 yards from the cup for his binding bird.
Van Rooyen was at 7 under through 14 holes. He shot on the sixth hole to fall back.
Van Rooyen followed up with his successful US Open qualifier in Ohio earlier this week with a strong show at Congaree. He had missed his last four cuts including the PGA Championship. He spent the last three weeks thinking about his accomplishments and working on his game. van Rooyen liked what he saw on Thursday.
“I think I’m just moving forward a little bit,” he said.
Brooks Koepka, who played for the first time since finishing second to Phil Mickelson at the PGA Championship, opened with a 72 and was seven shots behind the leaders. Koepka is the only other top 10 player on this field, the last before the season’s third major.
Koepka’s start was not a good sign: the last four times he started a tournament for couples, he continued to miss the cut.
Shortly after Johnson graduated, he was awarded the Palmetto Order by Government Henry McMaster at the club.
“This is a special day for me and my family,” Johnson said of the state’s highest honor for a civilian. “I’ve always been a proud South Carolina, and I always will be.”
Johnson said he was strengthened by the strong crowd that followed him, not just here, but at RBC Heritage at Hilton Head and the PGA Championship this season.
“I get a lot of support here in South Carolina as I am a resident of South Carolina,” he said. “And yes, it’s been great” to play so much there.
“Hopefully I can keep it rolling the rest of the week,” he said.
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