KOHLER, United States: Dustin Johnson shook off any bitter memory of Whistling Straits, seizing the first-round lead at the PGA Championship on Thursday (Friday in Manila) to steal the show from Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth.
A 28-foot eagle at the par-five 16th and five birdies saw Johnson grab the early lead just as world number one and defending champion McIlroy, Masters and US Open champion Jordan Spieth and British Open winner Zach Johnson were heading to the first tee.
With afternoon winds making scoring tough on the par-72, 7,501 Whistling Straits course on the shores of Lake Michigan, Johnson’s score was still atop the leaderboard at the end of the day.
Sweden’s David Lingmerth mounted the strongest afternoon challenge, moving as low as six-under before settling for an impressive five-under par 67.
“Today was pretty easy,” Johnson said. “I felt like I was just super-patient, stayed focused all day and I was swinging well. I was controlling it.”
Eight players shared third place on four-under par 68: Australians Jason Day and Matt Jones, South Korean-born New Zealander Danny Lee and Americans J.B. Holmes, Russell Henley, Matt Kuchar, Scott Piercy and Harris English.
But the names who dominated the build-up to the tournament found it sometimes heavy going.
McIlroy and Spieth both fired one-under par 71, with Zach Johnson settling for a three-over par 75 that left him nine adrift — tied for 86th in a group that also included Tiger Woods.
“I think anything under par this afternoon was a decent score,” said McIlroy, who bounced back from an opening bogey with a birdie at the second, and was even through the turn after going bogey-birdie at eight and nine.
Along the way he rolled his trouser leg up to save par from the shallow water of a pond at the par-five fifth.
He got to two-under with birdies at 11 and 16 before dropping a shot at the last.
McIlroy settling in
McIlroy was untroubled by the torn ligament in his left ankle that he suffered on July 4, although he admitted to some nerves teeing it up in his first tournament since the US Open in June.
“Once I got those first couple holes out of the way, I felt like I settled into the round really nicely,” he said.
Spieth was steady as a rock, parring his first 10 holes before a bogey at the par-five 11th, where he missed a three-footer for par.
He responded with a chip-in birdie at the 12th, and also birdied the par-five 16th to finish at one-under.
“I hit some really good putts early in the round, had some chances to go under par, even in these conditions that we had,” said Spieth.
“I think (it was) one of the better rounds in the afternoon,” he said, adding a note of admiration for Lingmerth’s effort.
“That’s a heck of a round of golf in those conditions,” Spieth said.
In the more hospitable morning conditions, Johnson opened his round with back-to-back birdies at the 10th and 11th before his eagle at 16.
He added birdies on one, two and four, and his lone bogey, a failed up and down at the par-three third, was followed by a birdie at the fourth before he capped his round with a 10-foot par putt at the ninth.
“You know, I hit it close on seven and eight and lipped both of those out,” Johnson said. “And on nine, my first putt I hit it a little too hard and fortunately I made a nice comeback for par, to end the day with a good, positive vibe.”
Things haven’t always gone so smoothly for Johnson at Whistling Straits.
He was leading the 2010 PGA Championship at the final hole when he grounded his club in a scrubby bunker that looked to him like waste ground.
The two stroke penalty and a missed putt at the 72nd hole cost him a place in the playoff won by Germany’s Martin Kaymer.
It’s just one of Johnson’s major near misses—the most recent a three-putt finish to the US Open at Chambers Bay.
For former world number one Woods it was a tough start in his bid to avoid a third straight missed cut at a major.
“Probably one of the worst putting rounds I’ve had in a very long time,” said the 14-time major champion, who has slumped to 278th in the world in the wake of injuries and changes to his swing.