Sports

Zach Johnson has proven precision just as important as power at Masters

Iowan tees off at 12:05 p.m. CT Thursday

Zach Johnson hits from a sand trap on the second hole during the second day of practice for the 2018 Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, U.S. April 3, 2018. (Reuters)
Zach Johnson hits from a sand trap on the second hole during the second day of practice for the 2018 Masters golf tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia, U.S. April 3, 2018. (Reuters)

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Zach Johnson begins his 15th Masters at majestic Augusta National with hope.

He may not be among the list of possible winners, but being a “shorter hitter” can be helpful at times.

This year’s Masters favorite, the long-hitting Rory McIlroy, thinks Johnson doesn’t give up much to longer hitters like himself on Augusta’s par 5s.

“You don’t have to be a long hitter to birdie those holes, look at Zach Johnson when he won in 2007, and he wedged onto all the par 5s,” McIlroy said Sunday.

By comparison, Johnson has played a total of 44 Masters rounds at Augusta. McIlroy has played 38. But McIlroy has 64 total birdies on par 5s, Johnson has 63.

CBS golf analyst Nick Faldo agrees distance isn’t as big of a separator on par 5s.

“The short guys aren’t that short in good weather at Augusta, sure they might have to be going in (to par 5s) with a longer club, but they can still get there,” he said. “The longer players do have a distinct advantage of less club but you still have to hit it in the right place.”

And when one doesn’t hit it in the right place off the green, Johnson is among those who grinds to get it up and down, according to 2008 U.S. Ryder Cup captain and NBC golf analyst Paul Azinger.

“Zach has great touch with his wedges around the green,” Azinger said. “And that’s always helpful around this place.”

Though Johnson has had a lackluster 2018-19 season thus far, Augusta National could be the right place to right the ship for the 2007 champion.

“It’s really thinking and being smart,” said the 42-year-old Johnson, who enjoyed his 12th Champions Dinner on Tuesday night. “I gotta keep doing what I’m doing when I play this course.”

Though he’s finished in the top 40 in five of nine starts this season, Johnson hasn’t nabbed a top 10 since November’s RSM Classic when he tied for seventh. On top of that, he’s missed three cuts including at last month’s prestigious Players Championship.

Johnson enters this Masters ranked 87th in the world golf rankings. At last year’s Masters, Johnson started the week ranked 59th, and though he got into the top 50 by the PGA Championship that August in St. Louis, he ultimately dropped in the rankings in the eight months afterward.

Johnson knows what it takes to be successful here.

“It’s not rocket science,” he said. “It’s being patient, its holing putts.”

But this week’s seen a lot of rain at Augusta National, something Azinger, a veteran of 15 Masters, sees as a problem for Johnson and the shorter hitters.

“Right now with the wet conditions it’s probably going to be hard for a short hitter to win this week because the course is so soft, and it’s supposed to keep raining,” Azinger said.

The course took a good amount of rain for most of Monday and a few hours on Tuesday. The forecast calls for rain and at least 10 mph winds Friday through Sunday.

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“When the conditions are tough like they’re supposed to be (this week) it’s just ball control, trajectory control, putting the ball in a place to get up and down,” Johnson said. “It’s the lag putts, it’s the chips. Where are they going to be? Above the hole, bellow the hole?”

Johnson tees off with at 12:05 p.m. CT Thursday with fellow Ryder Cup veterans Ian Poulter and Matt Kuchar.

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