Garrett Johnston, correspondent
Jul 16, 2016 at 8:03 pm | Print View
TROON, Scotland — A cold, windswept day at the 145th Open Championship swept away any realistic chance of Zach Johnson defending his title as poor driving led to a 4-over par 75.
Johnson began the day alone in fifth place, playing in the third-to-last grouping at 5-under par and only five shots short of leader Phil Mickelson.
For Johnson, this day could have ended up much differently, but he knows current leader Henrik Stenson (12-under) and Phil Mickelson (11-under) are in the driver’s seat, with the next closest pursuer at 6-under.
“They’re navigating properly and hitting a lot of fairways and making the best of their opportunities,” Johnson said. “It’s hard. When you’re not playing well, it’s hard to fight through it. I could have shot 80 (Saturday). It was just a struggle and grind, that kind of thing. The leaderboards should almost be irrelevant. It’s frustrating because I feel like I haven’t had my best yet so hopefully it comes out (Sunday).”
As Johnson’s name was called on the first tee Saturday afternoon, the 40-year-old tried to grab the bill of his cap to acknowledge — except his cap was actually a beanie and the gesture was demonstrative enough to be played in slow-motion during a highlight vignette of Sky Sports’ broadcast in Europe.
But the joking ended there as Johnson launched his 3-iron further than planned and into the second fairway bunker, to which he responded “wow!” in disbelief.
“When I hit it we both said good shot,” Johnson said of he and playing partner Tony Finau. “I was trying to keep it short of the first one and it went into the second one.
“I misjudged the wind. I was fortunate enough in that bunker to be able to advance it.”
Johnson then got up and down for a nice par to settle the early jitters.
A quick birdie on the second had the Cedar Rapids native waving to vocally supportive fans on the next hole. “Nice putt on the last hole” they said.
But after a major blunder on the par-3 fifth, when he pushed his tee shot into the right pot bunker and an untimely three-putt double-bogey, the Scottish fans knew it was time to spur their defending champ on.
“Come on Zach!” were some of the shouts. But Johnson would not score well the rest of the day, his driving and poor contact the estimated issue.
“For me (Saturday’s) biggest challenge was hitting solid shots,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t hitting solid shots going out but coming back middle of the round I just didn’t hit it very good. When you’re doing that it’s hard to navigate out there.”
But Johnson did bring a strong short game to Troon on Saturday, and his playing partner Tony Finau took note of it.
“(Johnson) got up and down from everywhere and that’s how good he is with his wedges,” Finau said. “He can hit it all over the place with his driver and still manage to shoot a (4) over. I have so much respect for him first of all as a person and as a player, all the accolades that he has.”
Accolades are good for Johnson, but how does he view his work day Sunday?
“It’s an opportunity, and hopefully an opportunity to right the ship, and hit some solid shots. I’m just very frustrated with tee shots. It’s killed me this week.”
With 15- to 20-mph winds expected again Sunday, Johnson has developed an informed approach to taking on that particular element in Scotland.
“Certainly the wind is going to grab the ball and take it and push it and pull it,” Johnson said. “But if you hit it solid, it’s not going to be that errant. It’s really about picking the proper target out and hitting the proper shot.”