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Dustin Johnson unleashes impressive drives at Riviera

Dustin Johnson's massive drives (and scores to back them up) have impressed more than just the gallery at the Northern Trust Open. Robert Laberge/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES -- It's one thing when a professional golfer impresses the masses with behemoth drives and dialed-in approach shots, leaving spectators outside the gallery ropes shaking their heads in disbelief. It's another thing when a professional golfer impresses a fellow pro with such high-level skill. But it's yet another thing altogether when a professional golfer impresses a fellow pro who just happens to be one of the world's best players and an owner of one of the game's sweetest swings.

Enter Adam Scott, the past Masters champion, who spent his Friday morning playing Riviera Country Club in the same grouping with Dustin Johnson -- and kept finding himself impressed by some of the shots he was hitting.

"It's amazing," Scott said with a laugh. "Third or fourth hole of our day today, he's swinging it like it's 95 degrees and midday somewhere. I was looking for another cup of coffee and he's piping it over the trees on 13. The way he drives the golf ball is just unreal. It's phenomenal. He's an incredible talent and fun to play with, fun to watch."

Those are weighty words from a player of Scott's pedigree, but on the chance that anyone could accuse him of hyperbole, there's a certain matter of a scorecard to back up his claim.

Following an opening-round 68, Johnson posted a 5-under 66 to climb the Northern Trust Open leaderboard.

As he so often does when he's playing his best golf, Johnson made it look easy.

He bogeyed just one hole -- the devilish 10th, his first hole of the day -- and carded a half-dozen birdies. He averaged a meager (for him) 301.2 yards off the tee, but don't let that number fool you. It left him with an average approach shot of just 160 yards on this 7,322-yard track, leading to 13 greens in regulation.

Add it all up and Johnson is in contention going into the weekend for a PGA Tour title in his ninth straight season.

"Definitely happy with the way I played the last two days," he said after the round. "Felt like it was pretty much the same. Yesterday felt like I hit it really well; just didn't hole any putts. Today the same; I hit it really well, had a lot of good looks at birdie and just holed a couple more putts."

Of course, Johnson described his happiness with this performance with the same nonchalance that most players would use to place a lunch order.

He never gets too outwardly excited when he's playing well, nor discouraged when he isn't. That's led some people to assume that he either doesn't care as much as other players or doesn't crave success as much as them.

Those are notions that Johnson has quashed numerous times in the past -- and for good reason. After all, aren't professional golfers supposed to refrain from becoming too excitable? He shouldn't be criticized for owning an inner resolve most of his peers would pay for.

Here's another common criticism of Johnson: He can't shrug off past defeats.

He came within minutes of a playoff at the 2010 PGA Championship before famously being docked two strokes for grounding his club in something that didn't look like a bunker; he had an eagle putt on the final hole to win last year's U.S. Open, but instead three-putted to lose.

What many observers don't realize is that this is all part of the scar tissue that sometimes needs to form before winning these big events.

In a sense, it exists this week, too.

Last year at this tournament, Johnson bogeyed his 71st hole of the week on Sunday afternoon, found himself in a three-man playoff and eventually lost to James Hahn. Even so, he maintained on Friday that he still views that defeat with positive vibes for the way he played throughout the week.

"Definitely positive, for sure," he said. "I feel I play well here a lot. I really like this golf course. I think it sets up very good for me. It looks good to my eye."

Ask those spectators behind the ropes, his fellow pros and even a guy like Scott, and they all might suggest that any course in the world sets up well for Johnson when he's blasting the ball high and far and straight, like he is so far this week.

Whether he finally wins this title on Sunday after a few close calls remains to be seen, but either way, Johnson will once again leave a bevy of impressed observers in his wake.

That even includes a certain former No. 1 player, who couldn't believe the drives his playing partner was hitting in the first two rounds.

"He launches it like a wedge," Scott said, shaking his head, "but it goes 320 [yards] in the air."

It takes a lot of game to impress a guy like that. Johnson is proving once again this week that he has plenty of it.