SILVIS, Ill. — You shouldn’t judge an actor by one scene, a singer by one song, a quarry by one stone.
Nor can you judge a golfer by one round. Zach Johnson’s 1-over-par 72 Thursday in the first round of the PGA Tour John Deere Classic was an aberration for him, his first round over par in this tourney in his last 42, dating to 2008.
Johnson hit just eight of the 18 greens in regulation, a number unlike any he’s probably ever posted at TPC Deere Run or ever will again.
In a tourney where you need beaucoup birdies to contend — and Johnson has contended here more than anyone since 2009 with a win and a ridiculous seven top-five finishes — he had just three.
After a birdie on the first hole, “it was slim pickings,” Johnson said. “I didn’t get much out of what I had.
“Frustrating. Coming into the week I had actually been playing quite well.”
The result added to a 2019 dearth of highlights for a man with trophy cases filled with them since he got on this Tour in 2004.
This is someone with twice as many career Tour victories (12) as anyone else in this 156-player field, the only player in the field with two wins in major tournaments.
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But the Longs and Lairds and Landrys were tearing it up here Thursday, and Johnson was 10 shots out of the lead at day’s end. Which wasn’t too wonderful for a tournament woefully short on name players this year.
Results-wise, Thursday’s score fit into Johnson’s 2019 so far. Things just haven’t clicked. A player with a whopping 79 career Tour top 10s is without one since last November.
He is 140th in the FedExCup standings, with only the top 125 qualifying for the first round of next month’s playoffs. He is ranked 108th in the World Golf Rankings, recently falling out of the top 100 for the first time in 15 years.
You get no sky-is-falling vibe from Johnson’s camp. His coach of 20 years, Mike Bender, told me last weekend that his client’s game is trending upward in all areas.
“If there has been any changes,” said Johnson, “it’s been me looking in the mirror and saying ‘What are you doing? You still know how to play this game, so let’s get back to the basics.’ If I’m going to break it down, putting would be my priority at this point, and my practice in that regard has been unbelievable.”
But here’s a reality: Johnson is 43. Last weekend a 20-year-old named Matthew Wolfe who was in college two months ago won the Tour’s Twin Cities event (and the shot a 67 here Thursday). Young players with great physical and mental talents keep emerging.
“When I was 20, 21, I was trying to crack the top five at Drake University,” Johnson said. “There’s not many parallels.”
So what do you do? You try to fight back.
“I’m hungry, without question,” Johnson said after Thursday’s round. “I’m frustrated in the sense I’m not seeing the fruits of my work yet. “I’ve never minded the work and if anything, I’ve worked harder as of late than I have in a long time.
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“When I say ‘harder,’ I mean time, energy, off the golf course, on the golf course.
“There’s been a lot of frustration for me in the 2019 season because of the work I’ve put in and not seeing the results.”
Nothing will ever change the fact Johnson’s career has been a storybook. A Masters win. A British Open triumph at St. Andrews. Five Ryder Cups. Coming up big at golf’s biggest events after clawing his way there from Cedar Rapids and Drake and mini tours.
We know the story so well in Iowa, but we’re so familiar with it that maybe it’s taken for granted. Maybe we assumed it would go on and on given how long it already had gone on and on.
What made Johnson what he became was his desire and his belief in himself. It’s why you can’t discount him bouncing back to make headlines again somewhere, to be on leaderboards again instead of 140th in the FedEx Cup.
After 41 straight rounds here without going over par, Thursday was a clunker.
“It’s time to start a new streak,” Johnson said. “That’s what I think.”
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