Dustin Johnson sets pace as Rory McIlroy makes promising start

World No 1 shows no sign of rustiness in opening 71 at Whistling Straits

 

For those graced with early tee times, this 97th edition of the US PGA Championship offered a chance to post a score and to sit back and listen to the wind that later whipped in off Lake Michigan to wreak havoc. For those granted late tee times, tough luck.

So it was on a Jekyll and Hyde sort of day here, on a course given its name because of the whistling sounds of the winds coming in off the large expanse of water. And, as if the wind alone was not sufficient challenge as the day went on, it had the additional nuisance of firming up the greens. No wonder there was much gnashing of teeth and grimaces of frustration from those later starters tasked with chasing down those who had posted their scores early.

Dustin Johnson, again, got off to a fast start in one of golf’s Major championships. The American must believe that if you keep knocking on the door, someone will eventually answer it. After a season of close calls in the US Open especially and the British Open, where he faded away, Johnson opened with a 66, six-under-par, which gave him the clubhouse lead with Matt Kuchar, Danny Lee and Jason Day among those signing for 68s to be very much on his heels.

And Brendan Steele contrived to manufacture a bogey-free round.

“I felt we got the better side of the draw, got to attack the golf course. We only kind of got the really brute force of the wind coming in the last few holes,” said Day, in an honest assessment.

Yet, it wasn’t all a stroll in the park. Tiger Woods, for one, struggled - yet again - in a Major where once he stalked it as if it were his own domain. The former long-time world number one, now down to 278th in the rankings, shot an opening 75 and, at one point in his round, was heard to mutter to himself, “what the (expletive) is wrong with you?”

Another former Major champion also had his own travails. Keegan Bradley started like a train with birdies on his opening two holes, only to go off the rails with a succession of bogeys that left him kicking out at his golf bag in frustration. That sort of day, in more ways than one. At least the past PGA champion rebounded with back-to-back birdies on his finishing two holes to rescue a 76.

As Woods put it, “there’s no room for error on a Pete Dye (designed) golf course. He gives you plenty of room, but if you miss those spots, it’s going to be awfully penal and this is probably one of the most penal golf courses outside of the fairways and outside of the greens that he’s designed.”

The penalty was for those who veered off the fairways, or failed to find the greens with approach shots. Consequently, there was the sight of players taking penalty drops - a la Zach Johnson, after finding the hazard on Par 5 fifth - or of Rory McIlroy removing his right shoe, on the same hole, so that he could play from the lake. To his credit, McIlroy managed to rescue his par there on the way to posting a one-under 71, exceptional considering it was the first  time he has teed it up in tournament play since his clsoing 66 at the US Open back in June.

Quite remarkably, of those early starters who completed their rounds, only one of those in the top-10 has earned the distinction of being a Major champion. Justin Rose, in tied-10th, who signed for a 69.

For Day, though, it was a continuation of a season where he has consistently challenged in the Majors. The Aussie finished tied-9th in the US Open and was tied-fourth at the British Open, claiming a win subsequently in the Canadian Open. Now, there is the prospect of chasing down over the coming three days in a quest for that elusive title. “There’s plenty of golf left,” said Day.

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