TOWN OF HAVEN, Wis. -- Dustin Johnson is no stranger to the Thursday leader board in major golf tournaments, and through one round of the 97th PGA Championship, the 31-year-old sits at the top after posting a six-under-par 66 despite strong winds off Lake Michigan.
"It was blowing pretty good this morning when we teed off," said Johnson. "It picked up when we made the turn. It definitely started to become a lot more difficult on that front nine."
Johnson is back at Whistling Straits five years after he accidentally grounded his club in an unranked bunker on the 72nd hole of the PGA Championship, missing out on a chance for his first major title.
He got off to a strong start Thursday, with birdies on his first two holes and combined to go four-under on par-5s in the first round.
Johnson sank a 27-foot putt for eagle on No. 16 and checked in at six-under after his opening round.
"I thought I did a good job of just staying patient, hitting the shots that the course allowed me to hit," Johnson said. "I struck the ball well today so I was very pleased."
Wind speeds picked up dramatically before afternoon groups were off the opening tee boxes, helping protect Johnson's early lead.
The trio of Rory McIllroy, Zach Johnson and Justin Spieth highlighted that group; Spieth parred each of his first nine holes, bogeyed the par-5 11 then birdied twice over his final eight holes to come in one-under at 71.
"I hit some good putts early in the round, had some changes to go under par even in the conditions we had," Spieth said. "It just slipped but the hole, just to matching the speed."
McIlroy, too, finished at 71, as he returned to tournament play for the first time since rupturing a ligament in his ankle while playing soccer July 4.
He bogeyed his first hole, but recorded birdies on Nos. 2, 9 and 11 to recover,
"Obviously, I was pretty nervous on the first tee," McIlroy said. "It was just getting back out there. It was nice to get that opening tee shot out of the way.
"It wasn't the best of starts, but to hit those two shots on the second hole and make birdie, that sort of settled me down and I could get into the round."
Zach Johnson, who spoiled Spieth's attempt at the grand slam with a playoff victory at the British Open, bogeyed six holes to finish with a three-over 75, as did Tiger Woods, who bogeyed five holes with a pair of birdies.
Woods struggled mightily with his short game Thursday. He hit the green 12 times but needed 33 putts.
"I've had good putting rounds and I've had bad ball-striking days on those days, and then the flip side of it," said Woods, who grabbed lunch after his round then went straight to the practice green. "So, I've just got to get a combo right and then have it for three more days."
A four-time winner of the tournament, Woods is in danger of missing a third consecutive cut for the first time in his career.
David Lingermath of Sweden will start the second round in second place, a shot behind Dustin Johnson. He birdied five of his first nine holes and broke even on the final nine to finish with a five-under 67.
Russell Henley, Mat Kuchar, Harris English, Jason Day, Danny Lee, Matt Jones all shot 68 on the first day, trying them for third, two shots behind the leader.
NOTES: Neck issues forced Gary Woodland to withdraw early Thursday morning. He was replaced by Carl Pettersson in the field. ... Rory McIlroy, ranked No. 1 in the world, returned to action for the first time since rupturing an ankle ligament on July 4. His first-round pairing also included Jordan Spieth and Zach Johnson. Spieth just missed a playoff at the British Open, spoiling a chance at the grand slam. Zach Johnson, who won the Open Championship, came into the PGA ranked No. 12. ... The tournament is making its third visit to Whistling Straits which also hosted 2003 and 2010 PGA Championships, the 2007 U.S. Senior Open and will host the 2020 Ryder Cup Matches. ... The forecast Friday calls for 5-10 mph winds and a 50 percent chance of rain showers, with scattered thunderstorms possible in the early afternoon.