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TROON, Scotland — Royal Troon yielded plenty of low scores on the Open Championship’s first day and among those near the top was last year’s champion, Zach Johnson, who finished at 4-under 67 in a share of fourth place and four shots behind leader Phil Mickelson.
After birdieing the par-5 16th, Johnson stood at 6-under and two behind Mickelson’s lead. But the 40-year-old bogeyed his final two holes.
“Quite honestly it’s probably what I deserved,” Johnson said. “Granted, to shoot in the mid-60s, you’re going to make putts, but I don’t know if it evened out or not. I hit two really errant shots coming in, and I hit some I guess you’d say approach shots, pitches and misjudged the putts, misread the putts, but two really errant shots that cost me.”
Those were his tee shots on the 17th and 18th. On the long par-3 17th Johnson pushed his tee shot to the right, missing the green by 25 yards after a long wait on the tee.
He could not save his par from there when his 10-foot putt hit the left edge and did not drop, leading to his first bogey of the day. On 18, Johnson’s tee shot found a fairway pot bunker and he could only chunk it out about 15 yards.
Johnson still gave himself a look for par from 10 feet, but missed on the right edge this time, and settled for a closing bogey.
Thursday’s first round gave Johnson his first opportunity to play in front of the British Open’s fans in Scotland as their reigning champion. The two-time major winner said he liked the opportunity.
“It felt great,” Johnson said. “These crowds over here are just so warm and welcoming regardless if you’re a past champion, defending champion or from the other end of the world. ... They’re just tremendous, tremendous fans.”
Playing alongside long-hitting Adam Scott and Henrik Stenson, the Drake graduate catapulted his day with opening birdies on the first two holes, the first of which dropped from more than 30 feet.
On the par-5 6th, Johnson gave up more than 50 yards off the tee to Scott and Stenson. Stenson capitalized on his distance, dropping an eagle putt, while Scott made the same score as Johnson — a par.
Johnson made a good swing on the 123-yard par-3 8th, the signature “Postage Stamp” hole at Troon, stuffing his tee shot two feet away for birdie.
On the ninth, Johnson managed to give himself a 15-foot birdie putt to tie the 5-under lead at the time, but he just burned the left edge and looked upward in frustration.
Johnson made the turn in 4-under 32 and navigated his way through the tougher holes to start the back nine at even par. He got to 5-under with a superb 7-iron on the par-3 14th that led to a seven-foot birdie putt.
Johnson called Thursday’s conditions “benign” and the wind a non-factor, a rare situation at this championship.
“(The wind) kind of teetered, you know, but nothing significant,” Johnson said. “The severity of it was minimal, so it was a day you could get at if you certainly felt something.”
He knows there is rain and wind ahead in the forecast and, as a competitor, he chooses to accept it.
“I think you just have to embrace it and accept it and maybe even appreciate it to a degree over here,” Johnson said. “But you’ve got to be prepared for anything. We had some practice rounds and some tough conditions, so it’s not like it’s that foreign. But let’s just hope Mother Nature stays (calm) for a little while.”
The field is chasing Phil Mickelson at 8-under. The 46-year-old tied the major championship record of 63 Thursday, just lipping out an 18th-hole birdie that would have given him 62.
“That’s just fantastic golf,” Johnson said of his Presidents Cup partner who he went 2-0-1 last fall with in South Korea.