Dustin Johnson rides eagle to early lead at Whistling Straits

Dustin Johnson rides eagle to early lead at Whistling Straits

Dustin Johnson shook off any bitter memories of Whistling Straits on Thursday, firing a six-under par 66 to seize the clubhouse lead in the first round of the US PGA Championship.

A 28-foot eagle at the par-five 16th and five birdies saw Johnson sign for a six-under par 66 just as the marquee group of Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Zach Johnson were heading to the first tee.

The superstar trio -- McIlroy is the world number one and defending champion, Spieth is the Masters and US Open champion and Zach Johnson the 2015 British Open winner -- were heading into tougher conditions than the breezes that greeted the early starters on the 7,501-yard, par-72 course hugging the shore of Lake Michigan.

All three were even through nine holes, the steady Spieth parring his way through the front nine while McIlroy got back to even with his second birdie of the day at the ninth hole and Zach Johnson produced three bogeys and three birdies on his outward run.

"The wind is starting to blow pretty hard out there," Dustin Johnson said. "It picked up when we made the turn and it started blowing pretty steady out there."

In the more hospitable conditions, he had opened his round with back-to-back birdies at the 10th and 11th before his eagle at 16.

"I hit a great drive down there," he said of the 16th. "I had around 240 to the hole. I hit a four-iron to 25-30 feet and made a nice putt."

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. He is winless in four attempts when playing in the final pairing in a major championship.

That includes a three-putt finish to the US Open at Chambers Bay in June.

None of that appeared to be on his mind on Thursday.

"Today was pretty easy," he said. "I was swinging well and I was hitting the shots where I was looking. So anytime you`re doing that, it makes things a lot easier on you."

With the afternoon starters still on the course, Johnson was two strokes in front of a big group sharing second on four-under par 68.

That included Australians Jason Day and Matt Jones, South Korean-born New Zealander Danny Lee and Americans J.B. Holmes, Russell Henley, Matt Kuchar and Harris English.For former world number one Tiger Woods, it was another tough start to a major as he tries to avoid his third straight missed cut in a grand slam event.

"Probably one of the worst putting rounds I`ve had in a very long time," Woods said after posting five bogeys and two birdies in a three-over 75.

"I just had no feel at all for the speed," added Woods, who needed 33 putts.

The 14-time major champion, who has slumped to 278th in the world in the wake of injuries and changes to his swing, was heading to the practice green in hopes of finding something for Friday.

"Hopefully I can hit the ball as well as I did today tomorrow and make some putts," he said.

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