Hot start spurs Johnson

Dustin Johnson teeing off on the sixth hole in round one. His morning tee time helped as he played in less windy conditions.
Dustin Johnson teeing off on the sixth hole in round one. His morning tee time helped as he played in less windy conditions.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Mood calm in bid for first Major after near misses but McIlroy & Spieth have to catch up

HAVEN (Wisconsin) • Dustin Johnson started his first round of the PGA Championship on the 10th hole - a short, downhill, 361-yard par four.

Most players in the field on Thursday used irons off the tee, strategically positioning themselves on a serpentine fairway so they could be aggressive with their second shots.

Johnson showed no such patience. He chose to attack with his initial swing of the day, pulling a wood out of his bag and busting his shot down the fairway.

"I just wanted to make today as easy as possible," he said. The American world No. 8 birdied his first two holes, then eagled the seventh hole he played. Three more birdies on the back nine, along with one bogey, gave him a six-under 66, which was good enough for the first-round lead by one stroke over David Lingmerth.

A day earlier, Johnson, who has yet to win a Major title despite several frustrating near-misses, was asked to describe his mood entering the season's final Major. "Just chilling," he responded.

  • PGA CHAMPIONSHIP 2015

    1ST ROUND

    (USA unless stated)

    66 Dustin Johnson

    67 David Lingmerth (Swe)

    68 Russell Henley, Matt Kuchar, Harris English, J.B. Holmes, Jason Day (Aus), Matt Jones (Aus), Danny Lee (Nzl), Scott Piercy

    69 Brendan Steele, Thomas Bjorn (Den), Jamie Morrison (Eng), Justin Rose (Eng)

    70 Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Charles Howell, Robert Streb, Paul Casey (Eng), Martin Kaymer (Ger), Anirban Lahiri (Ind), Emiliano Grillo (Arg), Yang Yong Eun (Kor), Marcel Siem (Ger)

    SELECTED

    71 Ernie Els (Rsa), Rory McIlroy (Nir), Jordan Spieth

    72 Sergio Garcia (Esp), Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson

    73 Jim Furyk, Rickie Fowler, John Daly

    75 Tiger Woods

His disposition had not changed by the end of his round. "Today was pretty easy, I have to say," said the 31-year-old, who also benefited from playing in the morning when the playing conditions were less windy.

It was only one round and 11 players who have won Major championships were within six strokes. There was a bunch of golfers tied on 68, including Johnson's Australian playing partner Jason Day.

However, Johnson's name at the top of the leaderboard got everyone's attention. It helped that he was able to hit the ball farther and straighter than almost everyone else in the field.

As Day said after the round: "Dustin is hitting his ball to places where 95 to 99 per cent of the players cannot hit the ball. That's just freakish."

Championship golf is considerably more than just hitting it far. Johnson was precise with his approach shots and putted with authority as well. For the round, he had 28 putts.

While he was happily cruising around the grounds, making it seem effortless, much of the rest of the field was slugging it out on a wind-swept Whistling Straits and finding inventive ways to stay on the leader board.

World No. 1 Rory McIlroy rolled up a trouser leg and waded into Lake Michigan to hit a shot (and save par). He carded a 71.

Jordan Spieth opened his round with nine consecutive pars. He then missed a two-foot par putt on his 11th hole of the day. But the world No. 2 rallied with two back-nine birdies to be tied with McIlroy.

Tiger Woods' game continued to look wobbly. He shot a 75. However, Phil Mickelson carded a 72 to remain in the hunt.

Lurking at three under was Justin Rose, and one stroke behind him was Martin Kaymer, who won the event the last time it was held at Whistling Straits in 2010.

But the round of the day belonged to Johnson, who did not play in the PGA Championship last year because he had taken a leave of absence for personal issues.

He said he did not watch last year's tournament on television. He added that he was proud of what he had accomplished during his absence and of how well he has been playing since his return.

"But the best thing has been the birth of my son," Johnson said of Tatum, whose mother is Johnson's fiancee, Paulina Gretzky, daughter of ice hockey legend Wayne.

"That's what I'm most proud of. It helps make life a lot more fun whether I'm playing well or not. I'll leave here and be thinking about him, not the next round."

NEW YORK TIMES

PGA CHAMPIONSHIP

Day 3 (Singtel TV Ch115 & StarHub Ch209, tomorrow, 2am)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2015, with the headline 'Hot start spurs Johnson'. Print Edition | Subscribe