PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – There’s a look you see on people’s faces when they’re watching fireworks.
Or majestic waterfalls.
Or dazzling geysers.
It’s the same look you see on people’s faces when Dustin Johnson hits it flush.
Johnson makes folks gape in wonder.
Ask all those spectators along the fourth hole Saturday at the U.S. Open.
He drove the green with an iron.
Johnson crushed a 3-iron 290 yards to 5 feet to set up his eagle there.
Or ask those folks along the 18th hole.
That’s where Johnson mashed driver and 6-iron to reach the closing par 5 in two shots and set up a two-putt birdie.
At day’s end, U.S. Open patrons were gaping at Johnson’s name atop the leaderboard.
Closing hard with birdies at the 17th and 18th holes, Johnson fashioned a 5-under-par 66, equaling Tiger Woods for low score of the day. At 6-under 207, he’s three shots ahead of Graeme McDowell and five ahead of Woods.
Johnson’s name isn’t on the deed to Pebble Beach Golf Links, but he seems to own this place having won the last two AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Ams played here. Sam Snead (1937-38), Cary Middlecoff (1955-56), Tom Watson (1977-78) and Mark O’Meara (1989-90) are the only players to win that championship back to back. Those pedigrees tell you what a special talent Johnson is to be among them. Still, Johnson, just 25, can surpass them all becoming the first player to win three times here in 16 months.
What is it about Pebble Beach that draws out the best in Johnson as he seeks to breakthrough and win his first major?
“I don’t know,” he said. “The first time I walked out here, I loved the place. And I really enjoy playing golf here. You couldn't ask for a more beautiful place.”
What really makes you gape in wonder is watching how Johnson’s taken control of this U.S. Open. He’s overpowering it. He’s smashing the traditional game plan to winning U.S. Opens with a sledgehammer. This is the championship you win playing conservatively, hitting fairways and greens. It’s a championship you win with delicate, surgical precision. Johnson’s being precise, but it’s stunning how aggressively he’s doing so.
Johnson hit driver at the second hole Saturday, leaving him a sand wedge into that 502-yard par 4.
He also hit driver and sand wedge at the 10th hole, a 495-yard par 4.
But even with short irons, he was sharp. He hit wedge to 6 inches at the seventh hole to make birdie.
“Yeah, he was awesome today,” McDowell said. “He really just stood up and had no fear, hit the shots, hit all the shots. He hit some big, big golf shots today.”
Johnson hit six drivers on Saturday, a lot on this course. Even when he wasn’t hitting driver, he was taking aggressive lines.
“I’ve got a good game plan, and I’m not going to change it now,” Johnson said. “It’s worked so far. So I'm going to stay aggressive and take what the golf course gives me.”
Can he keep overpowering this golf course? Is there a reckoning coming playing a U.S. Open with all its trouble so aggressively?
And if he does win doing so, what revenge might await players at next year’s U.S. Open at Congressional?
“He’s going to go home and sleep on a three-shot lead, and we'll see how he feels tomorrow morning,” McDowell said. “If he turns up tomorrow like he did today, he's going to be tough to beat. But, Sunday in a major, I'm happy to be in the position I'm in.”
Johnson will be paired with McDowell a second consecutive day. They’ll be playing right behind Woods. Johnson said he didn’t hear all the roars Woods created finishing with three straight birdies, but he saw his move on the leaderboard.
“He's the best player in the world, so it's not a shock to see that he's right there and played really good today,” Johnson said. “I can't worry about Tiger tomorrow. All can I do is worry about myself. I can't control what he does. All I can do is I can control what I do.
“I haven't been in this situation, so I don't know. But I'm going to try my best not to let it affect me.”