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Zach Johnson, US off to winning start at Ryder Cup

Cedar Rapids native pairs with Jimmy Walker for morning victory

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Garrett Johnston, correspondent

CHASKA, Minn. — Zach Johnson paired with Jimmy Walker and won the final five holes of their morning match Friday in a come-from-behind effort to beat European Ryder Cup heroes Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer, 4 and 2. The win added to the American team’s 4-0 morning match success, the first time they’ve gotten off to such a start in nearly three decades.

Johnson and Walker trailed one down for much of the day before squaring the match on 12 and taking command for good from there, winning 13, 14, 15, and closing the match with a final win on 16.

“It’s the first wave, first session, but there’s so much golf left,” Johnson said. “(Jimmy) and I were just being patient and putting the pedal down.”

Walker felt like his partner helped carry the duo early after his own struggles to find the fairway on the front nine.

“Zach kept us going,” Walker said. “We both got into a rhythm, I think is what happened, and we started reading putts, started seeing it and we started pouring them in.”

That began with a momentum swing on the lakeside and picturesque par-4 seventh.

After Garcia stuffed his approach to gimme range for birdie, Johnson converted a 12-footer to tie (halve) the hole, a nice sign of the putter coming together when needed.

In this team alternate-shot match-play format, competitors are playing each other two-on-two and sharing the same ball and taking turns with each shot. They either win or lose each of the 18 holes or until one team leads by more holes than are left to play. Johnson and Walker’s 4 and 2 result meant they were four holes up with two to play, and thus the winners.

As far as a turning point Friday, Johnson thought it began with Walker’s 12-foot par putt on the ninth.

“His par putt on 9 was the catapult,” Johnson said. “That kind of kept us going.”

Johnson squared the match through 12 when he dropped a 10-foot par putt and then was demonstratively grabbed over the left shoulder by Walker as they strode to the next tee.

Both players showed a lot of emotion with pats on the chest throughout their five-hole win streak.

“Jimmy and I are similar in how we play.” Johnson said. “The trust is there, that’s paramount.

“We stayed aggressive and that was the one thing we talked about,” Johnson said. “There’s a time to be conservative, whether it’s a putt here or a putt there but most of the time it’s pedal down and that’s another commonality that we have.”

Johnson knew he was entering a competitive atmosphere this week and he was able to get his mind in a prepared place for his match, even though there are still many affected in Cedar Rapids by the river.

“I was able to block it out, I was prepared for that,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of Cedar Rapidians out here, too, so it’s good to see that.”

Johnson sat out the afternoon matches and the U.S. takes a 5-3 advantage into Saturday.

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