He was installed as the 9-2 favorite at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship but a lackluster 72 in the first round put him six shots behind the leaders on Thursday.
It was the first round in the last five that he didn’t post an under-par score. Because of his even par in the opening round of the four-day event, one online sports book adjusted his odds to 14-1.
Defending champion Tommy Fleetwood, who began the second stop of the year for the European PGA Tour at 25-1, shot up to the top spot at 11-2 on Bet365.com’s site. He carded a 6-under 66 and is in the lead, along with Hideto Tanihara, who went from 100-1 to 33-1.
Other pre-tournament top selections Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose went in different directions after the first round. McIlroy was a 15-2 pick and dropped to 6-1 after shooting a 3-under 69. Rose was 8-1 but after recording a 1-under 71 saw his odds drop to 22-1.
Top Player Surprise Struggle
Johnson was the top pick because the Abu Dhabi Golf Club suits his game and because he finished second last year.
Long off the tee, he talked before the event about being able to reach the Par 5’s if the conditions were right and use it as an advantage. Of the four Par 5’s he only made a birdie on No. 18.
Johnson was apparently in no mood to talk to reporters after his round, a little upset about his play. Even though he is six shots out, he is by no means out of the event and 14-1 odds could entice gamblers.
He shot his highest round his first day at the Tournament of Champions two weeks ago and still won the PGA Tour’s first event of the year by eight shots.
Others to Watch
McIlroy has been battling a rib injury and took time off after his last event, the BMW Championship in September, where he finished tied for 58th. His opening round 69 at Abu Dhabi left him three behind the leaders.
I was excited to get going,” he said. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and things I needed to work on health-wise and all that sort of stuff.”
Another pick that could be profitable would be Martin Kaymer. The German has had two Top 20s in his last two events and is one of the most solid players on the European Tour.
He was 25-1 before the tournament and hasn’t moved, despite shooting an opening round 69, putting him in the same spot as McIlroy.
A dark horse at 25-1 would be Henrik Stenson. He shot a 2-under and is still in the hunt. The No. 9 player in the Official World Golf Rankings had a second-place finish in October and finished eighth at last year’s tourney.