OLD WESTBURY, N.Y. — Ever since Dustin Johnson's stumble down a staircase and subsequent withdrawal from the Masters, we've seen glimpses of his pre-April self. Brief flashes of the guy who won three straight times, took over the No. 1 ranking in the world and did it with ease. On Thursday at The Northern Trust, D.J. made golf look easy again, posting a five-under 65 that has him just one back of leader Russell Henley.
The 2016 U.S. Open champion got off to a slow start, making bogey on the par-3 second at Glen Oaks Club, but quickly bounced back with a birdie at the par-5 third. From there, he played with steady confidence, adding five more birdies and not dropping another shot. After the round, he posed a scary though for the rest of the field.
"Today was the first time it's kind of felt like I was in control, like I was leading into the Masters," Johnson said of his swing.
Glen Oaks, a new PGA Tour venue hosting the first of the season's four FedEx Cup Playoff events, sets up very well for Johnson, who is one of if not the longest hitters on tour. He averaged 323 yards off the tee in the opening round, ranking first in the field.
"It suits my eye well," he said of the course. "If I keep hitting it like I'm hitting it, I'm going to like it a lot more come Sunday."
Leading the way is Henley, who carded a six-under 64 with eight birdies and two bogeys. He looked comfortable around the greens, with just 24 putts on the round, and getting up and scrambling when he needed. Since his victory at the Shell Houston Open, Henley just one top-10 finish in 12 tries, but has made his last six cuts.
Two back at four under are Scott Brown, Chris Kirk and Camilo Villegas, whose round was highlighted by an eagle from 161 yards to the elevated par-4 18th green. He's making his first appearance in the FedEx Cup Playoffs since the 2015 Deutsche Bank Championship.
Six players sit three back at three under, including Bubba Watson and Louis Oosthuizen.
Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler and Jon Rahm posted two-under 68s, while Jason Day and Jordan Spieth each carded one-under 69s.
Defending FedEx Cup champ Rory McIlroy struggled, making six bogeys and shooting a three-over 73.