SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — Maybe Dustin Johnson can bash through all his ill fate and lucklessness at this PGA Championship, not to mention the younger players who stand in his way in the majors, the Jordan Spieths and Rory McIlroys.
One way to deal with a record of disappointment is to just blast away, and that was Johnson's strategy in the opening round at Whistling Straits on Thursday. And you know what? It worked.
Johnson went against the sound advice of his coach, Butch Harmon, about how to play the narrow, wind-tortured ledge of a par 72 along Lake Michigan. Harmon wanted him to be conservative, hit a 2-iron off the 10th tee, his starting point for the round.
"No," Johnson said flatly. "I'm going to send it all day." The result was a 6-under 66 that included birdies on his first two holes and a monster eagle that left him a stroke ahead of his nearest competition, David Lingmerth.
Jason Day and Matt Kuchar were in a group of eight at 68.
The main event was McIlroy, ranked No. 1 in the world, and Spieth, ranked No. 2, who have won four of the past five majors and played in the same group.
Round 1 was a draw. Both shot 71, a reasonable start considering the blustery conditions off Lake Michigan.
McIlroy, competing for the first time in 53 days because of a left ankle injury, showed off his power by playing the par 5s in 3 under. Spieth's precision iron play left him with birdie putts on six of the first nine holes, and though none dropped, he put on a putting and chipping clinic on the back nine to finish under par.
McIlroy settled for a par on the second par 5 after flirting with Lake Michigan on his second shot. He had to roll up the cuffs of his magenta pants to hit his third shot, which proved the sternest test of his healed ankle, but not in the way one might expect.
"The only thing I was trying not to do was get my feet wet," McIlroy said, "because if the water gets through this shoe and the tape gets wet, that would be a little more than just sort of annoying or uncomfortable for the rest of the round. But it was fine."
Spieth, winner of this year's Masters and U.S. Open, doesn't usually go 11 holes without making a putt of any length, and frustrations were starting wear on him until he chipped in from behind the 12th green for birdie which steadied him enough.
"If I didn't get that good break on 12, it could have been a different story the rest of the round," he said.
The wind began to blow hard over the final hour of the round of Johnson, who suffered his most notorious major heartbreak at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in 2010. He unwittingly grounded his club in an area that looked like a patch of dirt beaten down by spectators' feet but turned out to be a bunker. He took a two-stroke penalty that knocked him out of a playoff.
He missed last year's PGA Championship to deal with what he termed "personal challenges," amid rumors of substance abuse, but he returned this season to seize the first-round lead in the U.S. and British opens with a pair of 65s. That earned him only more disappointment.
He appeared to have the U.S. Open trophy in his grasp, but he three-putted the final hole to lose to Spieth by a shot. At the British he relinquished the second-round lead when he shot consecutive 75s on the weekend.
"I try not to let it bother me," he said. "I love the game, and at the end of the day, it's just a game. … I try to learn from all the things that's happened and move forward and help me the next time I'm in the situation, to overcome it and get a major championship."