Springfield, N.J. — Dustin Johnson looked nothing like a major champion Thursday in the opening round of the PGA.
The U.S. Open winner shot 77, including three straight bogey 5s, two double bogeys, and a bogey 6 on the 18th hole that nearly everyone was birdieing.
In all, Johnson beat five players, three of them club pros, and pretty much played his way out of contention while paired with British Open champ Henrik Stenson (3-under 67) and Masters winner Danny Willett (1 over).
Things went poorly from the start for Johnson, who just last week in the Canadian Open tied for second place, and has been on a tear for much of 2016. Aside from his emphatic victory at Oakmont for his first major, Johnson followed with a victory at Firestone and a ninth at the British Open. He also has made a tour-leading 25 consecutive PGA Tour cuts — dating to the Honda Classic in March 2015, which he immediately put behind him by winning at Doral.
That Johnson was nowhere to be seen in the brutal heat at Baltusrol. He didn’t wilt so much as fall apart pretty much from the outset.
Nothing worked. Not his prodigious driving skills; he was all over the place and hit only seven of 14 fairways. Not his scrambling; he even left a long bunker shot in the sand on No. 11. Not his approach shots; Johnson got on only 55.5 percent of the greens in regulation.
And certainly not his putting. He ranked 138th on the greens.
His black attire seemed appropriate for such a round.
“He had a couple of bad drives,” Stenson said of Johnson. “A couple of bad tee shots led to some bogeys. And then he missed a fairway bunker shot on 11 and wrapped up with a 6.”
Stenson noted it could happen to anyone, even the second-ranked player in the world.
“Yeah, it’s major golf,” the first major champion from Sweden added. “It’s a tough course. If you’re not playing your best, it’s going to show up, and I think that’s normal. If you are playing well, you can shoot a score. But if you’re struggling and hit a couple of loose ones, it’s easy to go the other way.
“He just didn’t have a good day out there. We all know what he’s capable of doing with a golf ball and on a golf course. I’m sure he’ll bounce back shortly.”
Johnson, playing for a third straight week for the third time this season, will need to bounce back in a big way today to sniff making the cut.
That’s hardly where Johnson could have envisioned he’d stand when he spoke on Wednesday. Asked about his consistency in major championships the last three years — eight Top-10s, one win — he said:
“Well, I like the majors, and I feel like they are always played on really tough golf courses, which I feel like I do very well on really hard golf courses where pars are good scores, where you’ve got to drive it in the fairway, you’ve got to hit it on the green. You know, you’ve really got to control your ball.
“I feel like it keeps me mentally in it longer. When I’m on really tough golf courses, I feel like I’m more focused because I’m really trying to hit the ball to a certain spot, instead of a lot of times when I struggle sometimes is just staying mentally focused on every shot.”
The focus was gone Thursday, and with it likely went Johnson’s chances to win a second major.
McIlroy implodes for 74
Two holes into the final major of the year, Rory McIlroy was starting to lose patience.
He missed a 10-foot birdie putt on his opening hole at No. 10 on Thursday. He hit another beautiful approach into the 11th hole at Baltusrol, 10 feet below the hole, and missed that. Even after Mickelson and Day had left the green, McIlroy stayed behind, looking at the cup from a different direction.
It was a precursor for more misery with his putting at the PGA Championship.
When his opening round ended, McIlroy had 35 putts and no birdies. His 4-over 74 was the first time he failed to break par in the opening round of the PGA Championship.
“You give yourself chances the first couple of holes, you don’t convert,” he said. “You want to get off to a good start. I feel like if I had holed one of those first two, it might have been a different story of the day. You get a little momentum and you get it going.”
Instead, it kept sliding in the wrong direction.
His 8-foot par putt on the 13th never had a chance. His 5-foot birdie putt on the 17th never got to the hole.
He believes he is driving the ball as well as ever, which goes a long way at Baltusrol.
“Just when I get on the green, it’s a different story,” he said.
Coming back from illness and with only one round of practice ever at Baltusrol, Jason Day did just fine.
He opened with a 68 that could have been far better had he holed more putts. His irons were so good Day gave himself plenty of looks at birdie, but the defending PGA champ could make only three.
“I’m very excited about how I hit it today,” Day said. “I hit a lot of good, quality shots. Hasn’t been like that lately. To be able to go out there and hit it exactly where I’m going and see the shot and what I need to do and actually execute is exciting for me. Really positive stuff going into the next three rounds.”
... Andrew Johnston birdied his final hole to shoot 70. In a stretch from 10 through 15 he didn’t make a par, going bogey-birdie-bogey-birdie-birdie-bogey.