Oakmont, Pa. – Watching Dustin Johnson play in majors is usually like watching Superman lift a bus, then slip on a banana peel.
He’s the best athlete on tour, and the rare golfer who might feel comfortable taking off his shirt in an NFL locker room. Tall and lean, he can dunk a basketball with two hands and in the last round of a major, he is known to secure them around his Adam’s apple.
Friday morning of the weather-muddled second day of the U.S. Open, Johnson drove the ball longer and straighter than anyone else, averaging 320.9 yards off the tee at highly difficult Oakmont, and fired a first-round 67 to move into contention at a major again.
Friday afternoon, Johnson played his second round, stretching his streak of greens hit in regulation to 25, going 27 holes without a bogey and missing about nine birdie putts of 15 feet or shorter.
When Johnson sank one of his more difficult birdie putts on No. 6 (he started on No. 10 in the afternoon) he moved into a tie for the lead with journeyman Andrew Landry.
Landry played one shot Friday. He went to Oakmont early in the morning and sank a 10-foot putt to move to 4 under par.
“I’m going to go do some laundry and take a nap,” he said after leaving the green.
Johnson played 36 holes and 136 shots Friday to reach the same score. The two are tied for the lead entering Saturday, when Landry will start his second round.
By the time Johnson finished with a second-round 69, this was looking like the Best Player Never To Win a Major Open, with Johnson tied for the lead, one shot ahead of Lee Westwood and two ahead of Sergio Garcia.
Johnson is the most intimidating of the bunch in terms of ball-striking and athletic ability, and perhaps the frailest under pressure since Garcia cemented a reputation for folding under pressure.
How can a guy who makes golf look so easy make winning look so hard? Twice on Friday Johnson reached the 684-yard, par-5 12th in two shots, then three-putted. He has yet to birdie a par-5.
“I know I’m hitting it well,” Johnson said. “So I didn’t let it bother me.”
His history begs questions, and perhaps sympathy. Asked if he’s bothered by what happened at last year’s U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, Johnson smiled and said, “What happened last year?”
Selective amnesia might be as important to Johnson as his driver.
At Chambers Bay, Johnson shot a first-round 65, was tied for first after 54 holes, and reached the par-5 18th in two on Sunday. An eagle would give him his first major, and a birdie would send him into a playoff. He three-putted from 12 feet.
At the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, Johnson’s third-round 66 game him a three-shot lead. An hour into the final round he trailed by four on his way to an 82.
At the 2010 PGA, he was ruled to have grounded his club in one of Whistling Straits’ faux bunkers and the two-shot penalty kept him out of a playoff.
At the 2011 British Open, he was two shots off the lead with five holes to play and hit a two-iron out of bounds.
Eight times Johnson has been in the top 10 in a major after 36 holes.
“It was a long day today,” Johnson said. “I felt like I played really solid all day through 36 holes. Drove it really well, hit a lot of great irons, rolled putts pretty well.
“These greens, they’re so hard to putt, no matter how close you are to the hole. I hit so many good putts today that I thought were going in that burned the edge or lipped out. That’s just the way it goes.”
Johnson’s group was able to finish as light faded, meaning he’ll be able to sleep in on Saturday.
Of course, he’s slept on first-round leads before.