One of their better scores belonged to someone who won’t even be playing in matches – U.S. captain Fred Couples.
Jarrod Lyle of Australia had a 7-under 65 and to take the lead among the early starters at The Lakes. He had a one-shot lead over Johnson, who overcame a sloppy start by running off five straight birdies on the back nine.
“I was a little rusty,” Johnson said. “It was my first time in competition for about six weeks.”
Couples, who played the 50-and-old Champion Tour’s final event last week in San Francisco, played in the group behind Johnson and birdied his final hole at the par-3 ninth for a 67.
Greg Norman, the International captain next week at Royal Melbourne, had a 71. Norman won his first Australian Open at The Lakes in 1980 – before five players on his team were even born.
Defending champion Geoff Ogilvy had a 70.
Tiger Woods was among the late starters on a day that featured rain in the morning and the threat of more bad weather in the afternoon. He was playing one group ahead of Adam Scott and ex-caddie Steve Williams, who last week used a racial slur to make disparaging comments about his former boss. Thanks to four birdies in a six-hole span, Woods shot a 4-under 68.
This is the two-year anniversary of Woods’ last professional win, which came down in Melbourne at the 2009 Australian Masters.
Johnson arrived Sunday and has been playing a little bit each day to help shake off the rust and get acclimated to being in another part of the world. He missed a 4-foot par putt on the 10th, then missed a 5-foot birdie on the par-5 11th.
From there, he overpowered The Lakes. Johnson hit driver and sand wedge on the uphill, 447-yard 12th hole to tap-in range, hit a lob wedge to a foot for birdie on the next hole, then recovered from a poor tee shot by hitting 7-iron from the bunker to 10 feet on the par-5 14th, having to settle for a two-putt birdie.
The longest putt he made during that stretch of five birdies was from about 8 feet.
John Cook, the replacement for Michael Jordan as Couples’ assistant in the Presidents Cup, opened with a 69. Two other Americans who actually are playing in matches – Bill Haas and David Toms – opened at 72.
Lyle didn’t play the par 5s very well, and all of them are considered in range. But he made up for it on the 14th with an eagle that gave him the outright lead, and he added a birdie on the 16th to secure the lead.