At the LIV Golf Chicago event on Friday, Dustin Johnson picked up where he left off a few weeks ago at the LIV Golf Boston event, where he claimed his first title. Shooting an opening round of 63, D.J. leads Cam Smith by three strokes going into Round 2 on Saturday. He also helped his team, 4 Aces, to a total of 11 under, which puts them in line for what would be their fourth consecutive team win.
Johnson, who started on the first hole on Thursday, went out in 30 and only missed one or two shots over the five hours of play in Round 1. With a chance at 59 lingering, he stalled out a bit in the end but was still pleased with his performance, despite playing the last six holes in just 1-under par.
“I struck the ball really well obviously … it was really solid all day,” said Johnson. “Hit it really close. I didn’t have many long putts, but I holed a lot of putt inside 10 feet. I struck it really, really well today.”
When D.J. gets hot, this is what he does. He has the tendency to rip off multiple events in a row no matter where he’s playing or whom he’s playing against. This happened most notably back in 2017 when he won three straight tournaments leading into the Masters before withdrawing from the first major of the year with an injury. He was asked after his round Friday how he was maintaining such a high level of play despite probably playing less competitive golf than he’s ever played in his life (Johnson has played just six times since the PGA Championship in May).
“Right now I feel like I got my swing in a nice groove,” he said. “For me, as long as I hit a couple balls every other day then I can keep it there. Right now, I’m just swinging really well. Fortunately, I’m keeping it going.”
In addition to Johnson’s score, the 4 Aces also counted Talor Gooch’s 2-under number and lead the Punch GC squad — which counted Cam Smith’s -6 and Matt Jones’ -4 — by a single stroke going into the second round.
And if it’s Johnson who is the hottest LIV player going right now, it’s Smith who has been the best LIV player all year, albeit mostly on the PGA Tour and in the major championships. After winning the Tournament of Champions, Players Championship and Open Championship at the Old Course in July, Smith moved over to LIV Golf and finished T4 in his first event in Boston behind D.J. and two other players.
While Smith doesn’t have the beautiful game of Johnson when it comes to ball-striking, he’s been a better scorer throughout the entire year. Whether that’s enough to overcome a three-stroke deficit and the machine-like ball-striking performance D.J. has been putting on of late remains to be seen, but Smith has his Punch GC squad in position to end the mini-run the 4 Aces have been on and get his first post-PGA Tour victory at Rich Harvest Farms this weekend.
Regardless of what you think about LIV, the PGA Tour or the ongoing feud between the two, we can all agree that a Smith-Johnson battle over the weekend would be a delight. The towering, effortless game of a two-time major champion in Johnson facing off against the biggest “he’s got that dog in him” player alive today in Smith. A battle for the ages in the fifth LIV event of the year? Probably not, but the golf should still be great.
1. Dustin Johnson: -9
2. Cam Smith: -6
3. Matthew Wolff: -5
T4. Charles Howell III: -4
T4. Matt Jones: -4
T4. Henrik Stenson: -4
T4. Lee Westwood: -4