Polar opposites Johnson, Stenson lead U.S. Open

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. -- Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson have nothing in common except the top of the U.S. Open leaderboard. If they were wines, Johnson would be poured from a box and Stenson would require a sommelier.

But here they are after the first round at Chambers Bay tied for the lead. Johnson got there by hitting the ball so far that it was handed a hot, scented towel on the flight. Stenson got there by spending much of his day pulling birdie putts out of the cup. They ended with identical 5-under-par 65s, which likely gave the USGA the heebie-jeebies.

Red isn't a popular color at U.S. Opens, unless it's a player's own blood. The USGA prefers its winners to suffer along the way -- or request strychnine at round's end. Weeping is encouraged.

Johnson and Stenson didn't suffer Thursday. Johnson, starting on the back nine, put together a 33-32 that was low on anxiety. Then again, Johnson always looks like he just woke up 30 seconds ago. His gift is his distance and his practiced nonchalance.

For example, here's a quintessential DJ-ish explanation of why he's fond of the par-4, 385-yard 16th hole:

"Today on 16, I think, you know, with the tee up, that bunker on the right, it's like 300 [yards] carry, and I can carry it that far, so it definitely helps to take the bunker out of play."

Yes, it usually does when your drive can take aerial photos as it passes over a bunker 300 yards away.

Johnson said this in his signature monotone. If he won the Super Bowl MVP, he would look into the camera, shrug, and say, "I guess I'm going to Disney World."

This is his way. When asked how he'd rank Thursday's round, he said, "I don't know how to rank it. It was just ... good."

It was more than that. In fact, Johnson's 2015 has been a keeper. He returned from a six-month hiatus after addressing personal issues that included drinking to excess. He has one victory, five other top-10 finishes and, oh yeah, had a baby daughter with girlfriend Paulina Gretzky. So all things considered, maybe an opening-round 65 really isn't such a big deal.

"I played pretty solid all year," Johnson said. "And so I'm pretty happy with it. It could be a lot better, though."

A major title would help. Johnson could have won the 2010 PGA Championship had he remembered there were 1,200 bunkers on the Whistling Straits course, including the one he grounded his club in during the final round on the final hole. He had the third-round lead at the 2010 U.S. Open and was in serious Sunday contention at the 2011 Open Championship.

Reminded of the PGA Championship brain cramp (he was penalized 2 strokes and missed the playoff), Johnson said, "Whistling Straits was a long time ago."

Reminded of the 2010 U.S. Open collapse at Pebble Beach (he shot a final-round 82), Johnson said, "That was a long time ago."

Here in the present tense, Johnson has a chance to reverse the various perceptions about his game. Pick one: He's not a closer when it counts ... he's not much of a golf strategist ... his wedge play doesn't take advantage of his length off the tee.

"I think I'm a better player, obviously a lot more mature," he said, comparing 2010 DJ to 2015 DJ. "My game is definitely in better shape than it was then."

If Johnson is a flatliner when it comes to emotion, then Stenson is the guy whose engine can sometimes redline. The Swede can charm an audience with his humor and intelligence. But you don't want to be within a par-5 of him when he gets angry.

On Wednesday, his caddie, Gareth Lord, took a bad spill during a practice round and injured his wrist. There was time spent in the hospital, a possible ligament tear and a cast for Lord. This was bad news for Lord and dicey stuff for Stenson. So did Stenson consider getting a replacement caddie?

"Well, I mean, that's a thought that I've had many times when I played with Gareth," said a smiling Stenson, in charm mode.

A 65 helped ease Lord's pain. And it put Stenson in a playful mood. When asked to assess Chambers Bay, whose architect, Robert Trent Jones Jr., considers it America's St. Andrews, Stenson said more with less.

"It's different," he said, with the proper amount of sarcasm. "Of its kind, it's one of the finest."

And he made a gentle reference to Tiger Woods when addressing the subject of physical conditioning and the challenge of walking the Chambers Bay course.

"There's a lot of steep climbing and I'm sure there will be some tired glutes by the end of the week," he said.

Stenson is ranked No. 6 in the world. Johnson is No. 7.

Stenson is 39 years old. Johnson is 30, but turns 31 this Monday -- the same day, if necessary, the USGA has its U.S. Open playoff.

But here's a weird one. Johnson and Stenson share identical numbers in their past five U.S. Open rounds (69-69-70-73-65).

"I'm here to play golf and put myself in position on Sunday to have a chance to win," said Johnson.

"So just keep your head down and keep on going," said Stenson. "That's what's going to get me in a good spot."

Whattya know, something else they have in common: a useful cliché.