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By Garrett Johnston, correspondent
TROON, Scotland — Zach Johnson’s title defense of The Open Championship ended Sunday on a sunny afternoon at Royal Troon with an even par 71 and a tie for 12th at 1-under par, 19 shots behind winner Henrik Stenson.
The Cedar Rapids native got off to a good start with two early birdies on the 3rd and 4th holes and made the turn at 2-under 34. His 3-under total through much of the day had him inside the top 10.
A back nine 2-over 37 dropped Johnson out of the top 10 although he felt there were some positive takeaways from the final day.
“(Sunday) was definitely better as far as ball-striking (than Saturday) and I hit really good shots going out,” Johnson said. “I hit some good shots coming in too and probably didn’t get rewarded enough.”
However the two-time major winner did get rewarded with his deft touch around the large greens throughout the day.
“All in all I thought my short game was great again,” Johnson said. “My pitching was terrific, so there are certainly positives. I just didn’t drive the golf ball off the tee the way I’m accustomed to or needed to this week.”
The 2015 champ had much to digest after being a factor yet again in this championship, at least through his first two rounds.
“It’s another great experience, I mean, I take away the fact that I didn’t have my best and I still had an opportunity to move up the board, especially on the weekend,” Johnson said. “Troon’s a great test, a brutal test to some extent. I got the good end of the wave, too, so I can’t make any excuses.”
Johnson was paired with the eventual winner Henrik Stenson the first two days and was ahead of him after day one with a 67 to Stenson’s 68. But the big Swede finally did get his elusive first major thanks to a dominant final round 8-under 63.
As last year’s “Champion Golfer of the Year” finished his 72nd hole Sunday he tipped his cap to the thousands of adoring Scottish fans sitting throughout the massive blue grandstands. Johnson remembers their appreciation as a major fabric to this experience on the other side of the pond.
“The fans are the first thing I think about when I come here, they’re tremendous,” Johnson said.
The 40-year-old’s tie for 12th in his title defense is actually the best performance by a defending champ since Padraig Harrington won back-back titles in 2007 and 2008.
“I felt like I came back and gave it my best (and) I’m certainly proud of that,” Johnson said. “But I’ll take it. I want that top 10. I’m not suggesting that’s what I play for, but that (double bogey on 15) really hurt.”
So now that Johnson had the claret jug in his possession for a year, how would he best describe the way he felt about the unique prize?
“Awe-filled, awesome, and just reverent-in the sense that that trophy is very revered,” Johnson said. “It’s a pretty awesome thing. I’d love to get my hands on it again ... in my possession. I’m sure Henrik will let me drink out of it again if I need to. ”