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Iowa's Zach Johnson ready for a 'bizarre' but 'spiritual' Masters this week

Zach Johnson of Cedar Rapids, getting the Masters green jacket from Phil Mickelson after winning in 2007, said this year
Zach Johnson of Cedar Rapids, getting the Masters green jacket from Phil Mickelson after winning in 2007, said this year’s tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., will be a bit strange. (Associated Press)

AUGUSTA, Ga. — This will be a different kind of Masters for everyone playing and watching this week.

Playing this major in the month of November and without fans figures to create some things that haven’t been seen before, like fall colors at Augusta National and a quiet stretch around famous areas like Amen Corner and the picturesque par-3 No. 16 hole.

But for 2007 champion Zach Johnson, some elements still are key constants.

“Well it’s still Augusta National and it’s still the Masters,” Johnson said. “It still gives me the chills when I drive down Magnolia Lane every single time, especially the first time.”

That drive down Magnolia Lane might be one of the most famous in America, if not the world. Jack Nicklaus said last year the look of Magnolia Lane hasn’t changed in the 60-plus years he’s been coming to Augusta.

With no fans this week, Johnson acknowledges the atmosphere will feel different.

“It’s strange without patrons. That is really, really bizarre not having patrons out here but it’s still very spiritual,” Johnson said.

Spiritual because of the roars or the course setup?

“All of the above,” he said. “We’re talking on the range, to the first tee, granted I haven’t played a hole yet but it’s just going to be strange.”

Johnson played the front nine on Monday afternoon with Jordan Spieth.

“When you think of Augusta National, you think of a lot of things. One of the things I think of are the patrons, specifically Sunday late on the backside, you think of the roars,” Johnson said. “That will not happen this year but that will not detract away from a great championship.”

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It’s always a great event at the Masters, but rain is forecast for most of the tournament which could make the course a lot slower than the firm and fast conditions it was Monday and last weekend.

“Yeah, I hope that’s wrong,” Johnson said of the forecast. “I don’t know if it’s just part of the hurricane or not, but that’s going to change the way the course plays to some degree. But we’ve played in the rain here. I feel like it rains every other year at least. It’s unfortunate because I think it’s been kind of dry here as of late, but hopefully it’s not wet.”

Firm and fast is clearly what the 44-year-old from Cedar Rapids prefers when he’s going up against today’s younger and longer hitters.

“I prefer firm and fast anywhere, but especially here,” Johnson said. “They can do a lot with the technology that they have here, but let’s just hope it’s minimal.”

Johnson has been keeping an eye on his beloved Iowa Hawkeyes playing football again this fall.

“They’re doing all right, but yes, it is nice to have them playing again,” he said.

And it will be nice to see Johnson and the other Masters contestants playing Augusta again on Thursday.

Garrett Johnston has covered golf for 10 years and also hosts the Beyond the Clubhouse golf podcast.

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