116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Zach Johnson got off to a fast start Friday at The Players Championship, briefly tying the lead on his ninth hole before settling for a 3-under 69 to get to 8-under for the event. He's tied for 12th, six strokes behind leader Jason Day, who got through 14 holes before play was called for the day.
The Cedar Rapids native began his day at 8:10 am on the back nine at the Tour's marquee TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course trailing Day by four strokes. But he immediately made a move up the board.
'I kept the golf course in front of me for the most part,' Johnson said. '(I) really avoided some big mistakes.'
Johnson made five birdies to only two bogeys Friday and avoided a big mistake on the par-4 15th. After his tee shot found the right fairway bunker, Johnson blasted his approach toward the green but clipped the top of a tree right of the fairway and his ball caromed left in the fairway and landed 40 yards short of the putting surface. Johnson grabbed a wedge and executed a nifty two-hop approach to a foot for an easy tap-in, avoiding compounding his initial mistake and walking away unscathed.
Johnson made the turn with a 4-under 32, tied for the lead at that moment.
Fans in the crowd yelled, 'Great start Zach!' and, 'Keep it going!' as Johnson walked off the 18th green. As he made his way toward the first tee he noticed his two sons Will and Wyatt in the crowd and smiled and said, 'Hey guys.'
Johnson wrapped his round with a 1-over 37 on the front nine, his final nine, and feels the venue is one that fits him well. But is it one he believes he should win at?
'I never said it's the place I should win at, I said it's a place I certainly can win at,' Johnson said.
'I feel like there's been a couple weeks here where I feel like I should have won, at 20/20 hindsight. All that being said, I've had some decent finishes. I just think that it suits my game.'
Johnson has seven top-30 finishes in 11 starts at Sawgrass, including his best finish in 2012 when he tied for second, two shots behind Matt Kuchar.
Johnson was paired Thursday and Friday with 2008 Players champion Sergio Garcia and Patrick Reed. Both Garcia and Johnson seemed chatty throughout Friday's round. As both walked off the 14th tee box they shared a laugh and Garcia put his right arm around Johnson in an almost brotherly embrace.
'We've just played a lot of golf together, certainly respect each other and enjoy each other's company,' Johnson said.
At 7,215 yards in length, Johnson appreciates that Sawgrass doesn't demand major distance off the tee as other courses on Tour do. In return Johnson feels he can be aggressive with more lofted clubs on his approach shots. Through two days Johnson has hit one five-iron and everything else into a par 4 has been a 7-iron or shorter.
'I think it's just a matter of loft, that's really what it is,' Johnson said. 'You get the ball on the green, the greens are good enough if you putt it on line it will go in.'
'(Because) the greens are small, sometimes a conservative shot into a green in regulation is probably the appropriate play.'
But a big key this week in Johnson's eyes has been his play on the par 5s. He birdied all four on Thursday and one on Friday.
'The par 5s are kind of like par-4 and a halfs' Johnson said.
'Getting (the round) under par with one birdie on the par 5s is obviously nice.'