ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – There’s no need to adjust your televisions.
While Thursday’s action at the Open Championship may seem like a rerun, your programing is indeed live and original even though the only thing that has changed since last month’s U.S. Open is the arena, a lush and green Old Course compared to the brown and burnt out turf at Chambers Bay.
The cast, however, remains virtually unchanged; from Jordan Spieth, who won the U.S. Open, to Dustin Johnson, who lost the U.S. Open, to Jason Day, who gained a legion of fans for his gutsy performance last month as he battled the lingering effects of benign positional vertigo.
“I know. That's amazing, isn't it? Bloody hell, they just won't go away,” Day laughed after an opening-round 66 left him tied for second place, a stroke behind Johnson.
“Right now it's good excitement for the game of golf with how things are going. It's kind of extended on from the U.S. Open with Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth where they are right now, so it's going to be an exciting three days coming up.”
Spieth was another shot behind Day after a perfect opening loop that included seven hit fairways, nine greens in regulation, no bogeys, five birdies and just 14 putts that added up to a 5-under 31.
It’s nearly a perfect copy of the leaderboard after Round 1 at last month’s U.S. Open, where Johnson opened with a 65 for the early lead followed by Spieth and Day tied for seventh, three strokes back.
The differences are the stage and the situation, with Spieth fresh off back-to-back major victories and looking to become just the second player to win the Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship in the same season.
The only question as a wet and windy 54 holes loom is whether the outcome will follow the script from Chambers Bay, where Johnson three-putted from 13 feet at the last to finish a stroke behind Spieth?
The way Johnson played on Thursday, which is being billed as the calm before Friday’s literal storm, a sequel seems unlikely. Just ask Spieth.
“If [Johnson] keeps driving it the way he is, then I'm going to have to play my best golf to have a chance,” he said after spending the better part of five hours grouped with the bomber on Day 1.
“It's hard to argue with somebody who's splitting bunkers at about 380 yards and just two-putting for birdie on five or six of the holes when there's only two par 5s.”
Not that the 21-year-old was conceding the claret jug to Johnson just yet. As humble as Spieth is he bristled when asked if he thought he could beat Johnson. “Yeah, I think I can. If I didn't, I would go ahead and walk off and take a flight back home tomorrow,” he said.
Considering the forecast for the next two days, which calls for heavy rain and winds that will gust to 35 mph, and his historic fortunes at Grand Slam events, it’s far too early for the engraver to start etching Johnson’s name into the claret jug.
What’s equally as certain is if Johnson comes up short again it won’t be due to any lingering baggage he picked up at Chambers Bay.
“Nothing bad happened at Chambers Bay. I wasn’t disappointed, really,” he figured. “I don’t really dwell in the past too much. You can’t really change it, so there’s no reason to worry about it.”
It almost seemed like an unsavory dig that R&A officials grouped Johnson with Spieth for the first two rounds this week (with Hideki Matsuyama in tow), but given the U.S. Open runner-up’s aversion to fits of nostalgia it doesn’t seem to have had an impact.
In fact, the move may have worked against Spieth, who averaged 286 yards off the tee on Thursday and spent the day some 40 yards behind Johnson (who averaged 322 yards from the launching pad).
On the par-5 fifth hole, for example, Spieth found himself more than 60 yards behind Johnson, who hit 7-iron to 10 feet for an eagle, yet still finished the day just two shots back.
It’s a testament to the Old Course’s agelessness that the two leading men arrived in red figures via vastly different routes.
While few, if any, can match Johnson’s firepower, Spieth is at peace with his divergent approach to the game if not his own considerable abilities.
“I've played enough golf with him to where I believe in my skill set that I can still trump that crazy ability that he has,” Spieth said. “I expect when he stands on the tee it's going to be up there miles down the fairway. I also expect that I can birdie each hole when I stand on the tee. It just happens to be a little different route.”
While familiarity may breed contempt, the competitive odd couple seemed to enjoy their stroll around the ancient links, to say nothing of the duo’s familiar position atop the leaderboard.
As one would imagine, there was not a lot of talk about Chambers Bay on Thursday between Spieth and Johnson.
“No chat about the U.S. Open at all other than talking about the differences in the course here and there,” Spieth said.
For at least one day at the Open Championship, the drastic differences between the Old Course and Chambers Bay were the only things that distinguished the two majors. Whether that distinction remains through Sunday is what makes this major so compelling.