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Zach Johnson off to rough start at PGA

Cedar Rapids native 6 strokes back with bad weather looming

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Garrett Johnston, correspondent

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — On a day which began with calm, sunny conditions and ended up with light rain and wind, Zach Johnson shot a first-round 1-over-par 71 at Baltusrol Golf Club during the 98th PGA Championship and he stands six shots behind leader Jimmy Walker at 5-under-par.

Johnson didn’t quite take advantage of the benign conditions Thursday morning and he sits in a tie for 55th. The Drake grad knows he had a great opportunity and didn’t take full advantage.

“I feel like if you’re going to get it, then today was the day you were going to need to get it,” Johnson said. “We probably only had a half a club of wind today maybe. The fairways were still a little bit receptive to a degree, as well. I was starting to see a little crust in the greens and a little run-out in the fairways so it’s been a completely fair test so far.”

There is a lot of golf ahead and the forecast calls for rain most of Friday, and Johnson isn’t overly happy about his position, especially with 54 world-class golfers ahead of him.

“It’s not ideal, I didn’t have my best (Thursday),” Johnson said. “It’s probably the highest number I could have shot. I didn’t make any putts outside of five feet.”

Putting is typically one of Johnson’s strong suits, so when he takes on a 7,428-yard course with the big-hitters and 98 of the top 100 in the world rankings, a shaky putter is the last thing he needs.

“My speed was off, it was up and down, and I left it dead in the jar short on my last hole at 9, I thought I made it on 8, a few others just like that,” Johnson said. “I had one putt from 18 feet and then I had six feet coming back. I was just a poor judge of speed.”

Speed control is clearly the key on the greens, and Johnson sees the flat surfaces as a major part of Baltusrol’s challenge this week.

“I think they’re the defense here, the greens and the Poa annua, and knowing where the fault line is, knowing where the break is, the tendencies off of each hill,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to pay attention to that. At the same time, if your speed is on then you can put a number up on the board. I think we’re going to see a lot of threes and fours. A couple fives and sixes would not surprise me.”

At day’s end, there was only one player at 5-under and it was the leader, Jimmy Walker.

2010 PGA Champion Martin Kaymer shot the low round of the afternoon at 4-under-par 66.

So how does the Cedar Rapids native feel about the position he’s in and the proper attitude for Friday’s second round?

“I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing,” Johnson said. “Toward the end of my day, I started playing my best, even though I shot my worst. I hit a lot of fairways and hit some really quality shots coming in, I just didn’t score. For me, it will be much of the same (Friday).”

How will he factor in the impending rain and forecast, given that he’s due to tee off at 11:55 a.m., during what should be the heavy rain?

“The forecast does not look great. The worst case scenario is I don’t hit a shot tomorrow, the best case is I get 18 in,” Johnson said. “The forecast I was looking at said there’s a 100 percent chance of rain tomorrow. My guess is with this humidity, it’s not just rain, it’s lightning, so there are going to be suspensions assuming the weather comes.”

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