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Dustin Johnson takes advantage of conditions to take lead at PGA Championship

Dustin Johnson takes advantage of conditions to take lead at PGA Championship
Dustin Johnson hits a drive on the 16th hole during the first round of the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Haven, Wis., on Aug. 13. (Jae Hong / Associated Press)

En route to the first tee Thursday afternoon at Whistling Straits, Jordan Spieth stopped to hug his No. 1 fan.

The smiling teenager wearing pink-and-blue Under Armour sneakers embraced her big brother. Ellie Spieth was born with a neurological condition that places her in the autism spectrum, and Spieth has called her "the best thing that has happened to our family."

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Father Shawn said he expected Jordan to draw inspiration from Ellie, who rarely travels to his golf events.

Spieth's opening one-under-par 71 kept him off the front page of the leaderboard at the PGA Championship, but it was gratifying given his 1:20 p.m. start. With 25 mph wind gusts whipping off the shores of Lake Michigan, afternoon starters struggled to keep putts online.

And in the case of Rory McIlroy, his hat on his head.

"Anything under par this afternoon was a decent score," said McIlroy, who also shot a 71 while playing with Spieth.

Spieth called it "a different golf course," and that was reflected in this stat: Of the 14 rounds in the 60s, only two came in the afternoon.

The best effort came from Dustin Johnson, who seized the lead in the morning with a six-under 66.

"Today was pretty easy, I would have to say," Johnson said. "I was swinging well and hitting the shots where I was looking."

His performance was to be expected considering Johnson 1) thrives early in majors; 2) is striking the ball better than anyone on the planet; and 3) did it in conditions Matt Kuchar (68) called "probably as easy as we have seen this place play."

Johnson led by one over Swede David Lingmerth, whose 67 was the best afternoon score. An eight-man group at 68 included Jason Day, Kuchar and J.B. Holmes.

Other notables under par included Justin Rose (69), Hideki Matsuyama (70) and Martin Kaymer (70), the 2010 PGA champ at Whistling Straits.

While most of them played in the morning, by the time Spieth and McIlroy stepped to the greens, they had to factor in the wind.

"A couple of the [putts] I played the wind, and a couple I didn't," Spieth said. "I guessed wrong on each one."

But Spieth hung in nicely, playing the final seven holes in two under.

He said it was "awesome" to have Ellie on the course, though he saw her only during that pre-round hug. The crowds at Whistling Straits following the world's top two players — plus British Open champion Zach Johnson, who shot a 75 — were massive.

Asked if Ellie had previously attended a major, Spieth replied: "I don't think so. I don't think she would really know the difference between a major or regular tournament. She only accepts me when I win. If I don't, I better have something for her or take her shopping."

McIlroy also doled out a hug before his first tee shot, embracing Whistling Straits owner Herb Kohler. That didn't settle his nerves, though, nor did a fan who screamed, "Nice pants, Rory!"

For the record, McIlroy said they were fuchsia.

"I was pretty nervous on the first tee," he said.

McIlroy's first competitive tee shot since he damaged his left ankle playing soccer with friends on July 4 sailed left into the rough. It led to a three-putt bogey five.

Like Spieth, he rallied and finished with four birdies. His most memorable score, though, was a par on the par-five fifth hole.

He missed his approach left of the green, and his ball was one-third submerged in water. He rolled up his right pants leg and splashed out beautifully before converting the 12-foot par save.

"The only thing I was trying not to do was get my feet wet," McIlroy said. "Because if the water gets through this shoe, then the tape gets wet and then that would be a little more than annoying or uncomfortable for the rest of the day. But it was fine."

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