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TROON, Scotland — Zach Johnson stayed in the mix Friday at The Open Championship with a 1-under par 70 in severe rain at Royal Troon to get to 5-under for the championship, good for fifth place and within five shots of Phil Mickelson’s lead.
“All in all I really had a great opportunity today to put a nice low number up,” Johnson said. “I feel like I gave a few back there at the end.”
On the 18th, Johnson’s approach shot hit the lip of the front bunker and rolled to the back of the green. Johnson said he was in between clubs and probably chose the wrong one for that shot. The mistake led to a finishing three-putt from 50 feet, yet again dropping a shot on the final hole.
The 40-year-old said the opening holes Friday were “benign” and he took advantage of them, going 2-under through his first four holes and shooting 3-under 33 for the front nine. One of the highlights was a crisp tee shot on the par 3 eighth to 10 feet, where he then converted for birdie to tie for second at the time at 7-under.
Unfortunately for Johnson, he followed that opening 33 with his worst nine holes of the week thus far as he closed in 2-over 37. One of the tougher holes of the week, the par-4 11th, got Johnson into some trouble early on the back nine. After his drive ended up in the right rough in a horrible lie, he was unable to find the green with his second shot and failed to get up and down from 30 yards away.
Johnson also struggled on the par-5 16th as he didn’t make precise contact with his third shot, a wedge, and left it a good 25 feet short. A missed putt and he had to settle for par.
“At the 16th I am essentially trying to make a four and I barely make a five,” Johnson said. “And 18 was bad, too. Sour there, sour endings as far as where I put myself there.”
Nonetheless, the Drake grad is still upbeat about the way he’s playing and the control he has over other factors.
“I feel like I’m in good position and good control of my golf game for the most part,” Johnson said. “But I think I’m in really good control of my emotions and certainly the mentality you’ve got to have to navigate a test like this.”
Johnson hit seven of 14 fairways during Friday’s round and was quick to point out how much of an effect the rain and wind had on play.
“It felt like there were five, six holes where it was just trying to keep one foot in front of the other and staying vertical,” Johnson said. “But that’s what you expect. It was just when that wind picks up, it’s hard. When the wind picks up with rain, it’s even more difficult.”
Although rain is not expected for Saturday’s third round, 15-mph winds are, so precision figures to be a key.
“But there are certainly some positives,” Johnson said. “I feel like the best thing going for me right now is I haven’t played my best yet and I can still go out and do that this weekend.”
Johnson tees off at 9 a.m. Iowa time Saturday.
• Garrett Johnston is a sports writer and video producer. You can follow him on Twitter @johnstongarrett