Thursday's golf: Johnson starts strong in home-state Palmetto Championship

Associated Press
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Ridgeland, S.C. — Dustin Johnson got off to a fast start Thursday at Congaree in his home-state Palmetto Championship, shooting a 6-under 65 that left him a shot behind leader Wes Roach.

Johnson, the world's top-ranked player and a South Carolina native, hadn't played since missing the cut the last time he teed it up in the Palmetto State at the PGA Championship on Kiawah Island last month.

Dustin Johnson watches his drive down the ninth fairway during the first round of the Palmetto Championship golf tournament in Ridgeland, S.C., Thursday, June 10, 2021.

Johnson appeared he might hold a share of the lead before Roach, a 32-year-old seeking his first PGA Tour victory, rolled in a 19-footer for a go-ahead birdie on the 16th hole.

Still, Johnson had a smooth, bogey-free round in the field's first try at the Congaree Golf Club as the replacement tournament for the canceled RBC Canadian Open, called off a second straight season due to COVID-19 concerns.

Roach, splitting time on the PGA and Korn Ferry tours this season, shot his lowest PGA Tour round since November 2019. He was a stroke in front of Johnson, Doc Redman, Chesson Hadley and South Africa's Erik van Rooyen.

Roach eagled the par-5 fourth, holing out from 105 yards on the 633-yard hole.

Johnson was headed in the wrong direction at the Ocean Course three weeks ago, missing a major cut for the second time in as many months. But if anyone doubted his readiness for next week's U.S. Open, Johnson easily brushed that aside with his stellar play over the firm fairways and curvy greens at the 4-year-old Tom Fazio course.

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At Congaree, he had four birdies in a seven-hole stretch, all on putts 10 feet or less including a two-putt birdie on the drivable, 370-yard third. Johnson chipped in from 82 feet away for his final birdie on No. 9 to tie Redman for the lead among the morning starters.

Johnson was only thinking of a par save when he hit the shot and was overjoyed — well, about as overjoyed as the cool, calm Johnson can get — when it disappeared in the cup for his lowest round since shooting 65 in the second round of the Tournament of Champions last January.

“I felt like I’ve been swinging well for a while now, just haven't really seen the results or seen the scores,” Johnson said. “Made a few putts, but yeah, I mean just playing solid. Finally put a round together.”

Redman was the first to reach 6 under with a run of four birdies over five holes on his back nine.

Hadley's approach on his next-to-last hole, the eighth, was 2 feet from the cup for his tying birdie.

Van Rooyen was at 7 under through 14 holes. He made bogey on the sixth hole to fall back.

Van Rooyen followed up his successful U.S. Open qualifying in Ohio earlier this week with a strong showing at Congaree. He had missed his last four cuts including the PGA Championship. He spent the past three weeks thinking about his performance and working his game. van Rooyen like what he saw Thursday.

“I think I'm just sort of going forward,” he said.

Brooks Koepka, playing 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 in this field, the last before the season's third major.

Koepka's start wasn't a good sign: the last four times he began a tournament over-par, he went on to miss the cut.

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A short time after Johnson finished, he was awarded the Order of the Palmetto from Gov. Henry McMaster on the club grounds.

“It's 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 Carolinian and I always will be.”

Johnson said he was boosted by the strong crowd following him, not just here but at the RBC Heritage on Hilton Head and the PGA Championship this season.

“I get a lot of support here in South Carolina, being a South Carolina native,” he said. “And, yeah, it's been great” to play so much there.

“Hopefully, I can keep it rolling for the rest of the week,” he said.

LPGA

Irish rookie Leona Maguire shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday at Lake Merced to take the first-round lead in the LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship, the tour's second straight event on the San Francisco Peninsula.

Lexi Thompson followed her Sunday back-nine meltdown in the U.S. Women’s Open at nearby Olympic Club with a 71, while Michele Wie West rallied for a 73.

Off last week off after failing to qualify for the Women's Open, Maguire had nine birdies and two bogeys. The 26-year-old former Duke star matched the tournament record in the third playing of the event, missing a chance to break it when she closed with a bogey on the par-5 ninth.

“It’s a tough golf course,” Maguire said. “You really have to hit a lot of fairways, a lot of greens. I’ve been playing nice as of late. Things just haven’t been quite clicking, and they clicked nicely this morning.”

Jasmine Suwannapura of Thailand shot a 66, birdieing the par-5 18th late in the afternoon to pull within one.

Albane Valenzuela, the former Stanford player from Switzerland, was another stroke back with Alison Lee. Former Cardinal teammate Emily Wang caddied for Valenzuela.

“She just graduated yesterday from her master’s degree in international policy and she’s a Rhodes scholar," Valenzuela said. "So, she is probably, have to say, the smartest caddie of the week because she outsmarts everyone.”

Thompson offset bogeys on Nos. 2 and 3 with an eagle on the par-5 fifth, birdied the other three par 5s and had two bogeys. On Sunday at Olympic, she blew a five-stroke lead, playing the final seven holes in 5 over to finish a stroke out of a playoff that Yuka Saso won.

Wie West was 4 over with four holes left, then eagled the par-5 15th and birdied the par-4 16th. She has yet to make a cut in her four starts since returning from having her first child, shooting 74-80 last week at Olympic.

Hall of Famer Inbee Park was four strokes back at 69 with Jennifer Kupcho, Da Yeon Lee, Mariajo Uribe, Jane Park and Lauren Kim.

“It’s a little bit different atmosphere to this week,” said Inbee Park, coming off a seventh-place tie at Olympic. “It just makes me relax a little bit more after last week.”

Maguire played alongside the tournament's two past champions, Sei Young Kim (2018) and Florida neighbor Lydia Ko (2019). Ko had five birdies and five bogeys in a 72, while Kim had four birdies and five bogeys in a 73.

“It was a lot of fun to play with Lydia,” Maguire said. “We played a lot together over the last few months at Lake Nona and she’s a great player. Obviously, Sei Young as well and they know what they’re doing around here, they have had some good success, so tried to learn a little bit from them.”

Maguire birdied four of the first six holes, dropped a shot on the par-4 16th, then had three straight birdies. She added two more birdies before making the closing bogey on the course that reminds her of Ireland.

“I suppose the weather is similar to home, even the golf course is similar to home,” Maguire said. “It’s very green and sort of tree lined a little bit like what we get at home. Northern California’s been good to me and I won my first Symetra event not too far from here, so these kind of golf courses suit my eye.”

Stanford's Rachel Heck, the NCAA player of the year playing on a sponsor exemption, opened with a 76 in the group with Wie West.

Lucy Li, also in the field on a sponsor exemption, had a 71.

Brooke Henderson shot a 77. She birdied two of the first three, then dropped seven strokes with five bogeys and a double bogey.

Saso and Women’s Open playoff loser Nasa Hataoka skipped the event.

European Tour

Austria’s Christine Wolf and England’s Sam Horsfield shared the lead after a day of low scoring in the inaugural Scandinavian Mixed in Gothenburg on Thursday.

The field of 78 men and 78 women competed on the same course at Vallda Golf and Country Club for one prize fund of 1 million euros and one trophy, a first on the European Tour.

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Wolf had an eagle and six birdies in an 8-under 64 to set the clubhouse target, which was matched minutes later by Horsfield, who carded nine birdies and a solitary bogey.

“At home there’s a lot of guys I play against because there’s not many girls around, so I just really like competing against the guys," said Wolf, who won her first title on the Ladies European Tour in India in 2019.

Horsfield also enjoyed the format and was impressed by playing partner Alice Hewson, who returned a 68.

“I didn’t really know what to expect to be completely honest with you, but she played really well and I had a good time," Horsfield said.

Wolf and Horsfield were a stroke ahead of Finland’s Kalle Samooja, the English pair of Steven Brown and Ashley Chesters, and Spain’s Pep Angles.

The tournament is co-hosted by Swedish duo Annika Sorenstam and Henrik Stenson. Sorenstam was initially announced as a non-playing host but, 13 years after retiring, the 10-time major champion continued her recent return to professional golf and birdied the last for a 73 in her first appearance on home soil since 2008.

Stenson, who has failed to record a single top-10 finish since winning the Hero World Challenge in December 2019, carded four birdies and two bogeys in a round of 70.

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