KIAWAH ISLAND — The driver can be Dustin Johnson’s greatest asset on Kiawah Island Resort’s Ocean Course.
It can also be a detriment when it isn’t going straight, and it was a little of both Thursday in the opening round of the 94th PGA Championship.
Big drives created a number of opportunities and led to four birdies, and wayward drives led to three bogeys that have the Coastal Carolina alumnus and former Myrtle Beach resident tied for 32nd at 1-under-par 71 and five shots off Carl Pettersson’s lead.
All of Johnson’s bogeys resulted from missed fairways, of which he hit 8 of 14. “I just hit a couple bad drives that got me in trouble. Other than that I hit it pretty good,” Johnson said. “The fairways are plenty wide, so there’s no excuse not to hit the fairway. There are just a few holes where if you do miss the fairway you have to keep it on one side and I didn’t do that. I really only hit three bad drives but I made bogey on all of them.”
Johnson was comfortable on the Ocean Course’s Paspalum greens. He one-putted five of the first six greens, didn’t three-putt and needed just 28 putts in the first round, which is tied for 25th-best in the field. “I still missed quite a few makeable ones,” Johnson said.
He played alongside Rory McIlroy, who carded a 67 in benign conditions. “This morning it was there for the taking,” Johnson said. “I didn’t have my A-game today, but I feel good, I’m swinging the club well and hit a lot of good shots. If we can just put it all together I can come out and shoot a low score tomorrow [Friday]. I’m really close to playing very well. We’ve got three more days of golf so hopefully I got my bad round out of the way.”
Johnson teed off on the 10th hole and birdied the par-4 10th and 12th holes to quickly get to 2 under. He bogeyed the par-4 18th, and made two birdies and two bogeys on his final nine. He left a shot in a fairway bunker on the fourth hole following a 3-wood off the tee, and found a hazard off the tee on the sixth hole. “I made some really good saves for bogey, actually. I could have easily made a double,” Johnson said.
Johnson had second-shot irons into all four par-5s on Thursday, and he birdied two on his final nine – the front nine. “I was a little disappointed on the par-5s on the back,” Johnson said. “I didn’t make a birdie on either one of those and drove it in the fairway and had 5-iron and 4-iron in.
“… Especially the longer hitters, if we drive the ball well then this course is set up for us. It really is. If you can drive it straight we’ve got a lot of short irons into these holes and we can reach all the par-5s, so it’s definitely an advantage.”
A Daly dose
It was 21 years ago that John Daly gained notoriety when he won the 1991 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick as an alternate.
Now at age 46, Daly is back on a PGA leaderboard following a 68 Thursday that has him tied for sixth, and his game has been building toward this performance.
He finished fourth in a European Tour event in Qatar in February, and has played consistent golf of late. He has played seven consecutive weeks between the European and PGA Tours and has made six cuts, including a tie for 12th at the Greenbrier Classic and tie for fifth Sunday in the Reno-Tahoe Open.
“I think it’s kind of been building up for the last five or six weeks,” Daly said. “I’ve been playing good. I’m trying to keep at my own pace, just be myself and just play golf and enjoy it. … I like where I’m at, and I like the way I’m playing and I like the way I’m feeling. So just go out and just play and have fun.”
Daly has struggled to find tournaments to play in recent years, and is in the PGA Championship on the past champion qualification. He’s been splitting time between the European Tour and PGA Tour in recent years. Daly has five PGA Tour wins, including the 1995 British Open, and an additional European Tour victory, and aspires to regain his old form.
“I want to be here, playing our tour,” Daly said. “I want to be like everybody else in the top 50 and getting that free money in the World Golf Championships and be in all the majors and getting sponsors, big, big sponsors and stuff like that. … and I just want to get a schedule.”
Bradley’s bad break
Keegan Bradley won last week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, and two events as a rookie last year including the PGA Championship, with a long putter featuring an Odyssey head.
He was wielding the putter while walking down the fairway during a practice round when he heard a “ping” sound, and looked to see part of his putter had fallen off, leading to instant anxiety.
“But Odyssey made me a putter that’s exactly the same,” Bradley said. “It feels great. It’s my old shaft in there. No worries at all. It’s amazing, with my old shaft it looks exactly the same, there’s no difference.”
Bradley needed just 28 putts, though he three-putted once and unofficially three-putted again from off the green for his only two bogeys. He began his round birdie-eagle on the par-4 10th and par-5 11th holes, and closed with two birdies in his final three holes.
“The shot I hit on the 11th hole was pretty good, and that was big to help calm me down maybe a little bit and focus,” said Bradley, who was grouped with Tiger Woods and Martin Kaymer.
Mitchum has honors
It’s customary for players in PGA Tour events or majors to sign balls and give them to the normally young walking scorers and standard bearers as a keepsake out of appreciation for their service.
Kelly Mitchum gave balls to each of his accompanying young scorers following his opening-round 4-over 76, but he didn’t sign them. “I just gave them a ball to use. My signature would have devalued it,” joked Mitchum, a teaching pro at Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort.
It’s no joke that Mitchum is playing in his fourth PGA Championship. He qualified by tying for second in the PGA Club Pro National Championship on June 27, and is the lone representative of the Carolinas PGA among the 20 club pros in the field.
Mitchum had the honor of hitting the tournament’s opening tee shot off the first tee at 7:20 a.m. “It was kind of neat,” said Mitchum, who was paired with D.A. Points and Germany’s Marcel Siem. “I don’t know how I got that tee time. It’s just the way it worked out.”
He played in three consecutive PGA Championships from 2005-07 and is still trying to make his first cut to the weekend. His last PGA Tour event among 19 was the 2009 Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C.
“I kind of needed to get back here because it’s been a while since I’ve played in one,” Mitchum said. “I kind of went through a couple years of some poor play and it’s nice to rebound and get back here, especially since it’s my back yard. You just never know in this game.”
Mitchum, 41, was the 1991 ACC champion and played on the 1993 U.S. Walker Cup Team. He had 30 to 40 supporters following him Thursday, including his wife, Maria, and children ages 7 and 11, and he managed two birdies and six bogeys.
“There’s not a lot of forgiveness out there so it’s 4 1/2 hours of full concentration, and we played it condition-wise about as easy as it’s going to play,” Mitchum said. “… I have never played a golf course this hard, especially if the wind gets blowing. Today [Thursday] it was playing reasonable.”
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.