SHEBOYGAN, Wis. (AP) The ”other” player in the PGA Championship’s power threesome pretty much played like it Thursday.
Zach Johnson struggled to find the fairway all day and shot 3-over 75 in his first round at a major since capturing the British Open last month.
That was nine shots out of the lead and four behind his playing partners, world Nos. 1 and 2, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth.
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”I had difficulty on every tee,” said Johnson, who hit only five of 14 fairways.
He got frustrated. After gouging out of the rough three times, then needing a 10-foot putt to save bogey on No. 4, he picked up the ball and threw it into Lake Michigan.
On the next tee box, he put another one in the water, leading to a long discussion with a rules official, then a drop far back in the fairway that led to a bogey 6.
Pretty much par for the course for Johnson, who beat Spieth and Jason Day by one stroke in regulation at St. Andrews, then won a three-way playoff to capture his second career major.
The PGA traditionally pairs the past three major winners in the opening rounds.
That put Johnson with Spieth, who won the Masters and U.S. Open this year, and McIlroy, who is the defending PGA champ.
They drew a big crowd.
Johnson only wished he could have given them a better show.
”There were some good irons, some substantial amount of mistakes that I can recall,” Johnson said. ”About four or five mental mistakes I can easily recall. That’s frustrating.”
MAJOR DIFFERENCE: While the last major was going on at St. Andrews, Scott Piercy was playing in Alabama.
Hey, whatever it takes.
Piercy’s win at the Barbasol Championship, an opposite field event from the British Open, locked in his spot and gave him plenty of momentum for the PGA.
He kept it going Thursday, with a 4-under 68, joining David Lingmerth (67) as one of only two players to break 70 in the afternoon at Whistling Straits, after the wind kicked up and the course dried out.
”I was starting to feel like my game is coming around,” said Piercy, who missed a chunk of last season after having surgery on his right elbow. ”The wave of confidence is starting to build, I feel like. And around here, if you hit quality shots, you get rewarded.”
Certainly, the world wasn’t paying much attention last month while Piercy was notching his third career PGA Tour victory – this one on the Robert Trent Jones course near Auburn. Maybe he’ll get his due this week. No big difference to him, either way.
”I just think of it as golf,” Piercy said. ”I know it’s hard to imagine, but I’ll just go get some rest and go do it again in the morning.”
PHIL IN THE SANDBOX: Phil Mickelson peered out of the bunker and saw a 20-foot-high wall made of railroad ties separating him from the 17th green.
By then, he was used to it. Lefty spent an awful lot of time playing in an assortment of Pete Dye’s 1,012 sand traps Thursday.
On 17, Mickelson took a big swing, banged the lip of the trap with his wedge on the follow through and watched the ball sail above the wall and stop just off of the putting surface.
He trudged slowly up the steep stairway, then made a bogey, and was happy for that.
”I was really worried about hitting two or three shots and staying down there,” he said.
It was that kind of day for the five-time major champion, who spent most of his blustery round wiping grit off his face.
How many traps was he in?
”I lost count by probably hole 8 or 9,” he said
For the record, he hit seven of his 72 shots out of the sand. Given that, an even-par round didn’t seem so bad.
”It’s very hard to recover here,” he said. ”You hit a bad shot, and some of the bad ones like I did, and you immediately throw par out of your mind and you’re just fighting for bogey.”
FIRST MAJOR: Making her first appearance at a major was Jordan Spieth’s younger sister, Ellie.
Ellie, 14, was born with a neurological disorder, and Spieth has long talked about what an inspiration she is to him.
He joked that having her in the crowd adds a little pressure.
”She only accepts me if I win,” he said. ”And if I don’t win, I better have something for her, or take her shopping.”