For the first time in more than a year, Dustin Johnson is in a competitive position after the first round of a major championship.
Johnson shot a 1-under par 70 Thursday in the 99th PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club for his first under par opening round in a major since his victory in the 2016 U.S. Open.
With half the field finished, the 70 had Johnson three shots off the lead of Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark and in the top 10.
“I think 1 under is a good solid start,” Johnson said. “I definitely left a few shots out there but I’m pleased with it. It was a good, solid round, and I’ll go put another one up there tomorrow. … I think any rounds under par around here are good.”
After winning his first major last June, the Coastal Carolina alumnus opened the 2016 British Open with an even-par 71 en route to tying for ninth, and opened the PGA Championship with a 77 that led to a missed cut.
This season, Johnson missed the Masters with a back injury, shot a 75 in the opening round of the U.S. Open at Erin Hills en route to missing the cut, and shot a 1-over 71 in the British Open on an opening day when many players in the field were well under par.
Johnson hit 11 of 14 fairways off the tee, though he missed seven of 18 greens in regulation.
“I hit the driver really good,” Johnson said. “I hit a lot of fairways and never really got out of position off the tee. I think that was the big key for me today.
I hit the driver really good. I hit a lot of fairways and never really got out of position off the tee. I think that was the big key for me today.
“… I hadn't been swinging that good. I definitely hadn't had a lot of confidence in the driver. This week, I worked hard on it and I got a lot of confidence in the driver. I feel like I'm swinging it really well. I’ve got control over it finally. The ball is kind of starting where I want it to and it’s got the right shape.”
Johnson struggled with Quail Hollow’s fast, firm and undulating Champion Bermudagrass greens that were redone in 2016. The longest putt he made Thursday was 7 feet.
“The greens are very difficult. I thought they had a lot of tough pins out there for Thursday,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t matter how long the putts is, it’s hard.
“They’re very slopey, they’re really fast, so it just makes it difficult to putt. There are a lot of little knobs where if you hit it high it’s going to stay high and hit it low it’s going to break away from the hole. You really have to hit putts with the correct speed.”
Johnson started his round with a birdie on the par-5 10th, chipping from the rough to 4 feet, but he gave the stroke back on the next hole when he missed the green from 135 yards in the fairway and missed a 7-foot par putt.
He birdied the par-5 15th by chipping to 3 feet after hitting an uphill 3-wood that went over the green from 290 yards out.
“I knew the club I had I needed the wind to be hurting for it to not go long,” Johnson said. “I hit 3-wood and I hit it right at the flag. I was pleased with where it ended up.”
A bogey on the tough par-4 16th, where Johnson found a right greenside bunker from 190 yards and missed an 18-foot par putt, dropped him back to even par.
Johnson got under par again with a 145-yard approach to 3 feet for birdie on the fifth hole, and missed an opportunity with a three-putt par on the par-5 seventh, lipping out a 6-foot birdie putt.
“I missed a few short ones, but all in all it was a pretty solid day,” Johnson said. “I felt like I hit the ball well, I was controlling my distance pretty well, and the few other times I missed the green I was getting up and down.”