Sports

Zach Johnson survives being between rock and hard place

But he lost ground Friday in pursuit of third major

This is what Zach Johnson faced on the ninth hole (his final hole of the day) during Friday’s second round of the PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis. Johnson bogeyed the hole, and very nearly made par. (Mike Hlas photo)
This is what Zach Johnson faced on the ninth hole (his final hole of the day) during Friday’s second round of the PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis. Johnson bogeyed the hole, and very nearly made par. (Mike Hlas photo)

ST. LOUIS — It looked for a while Friday as if Zach Johnson was going to head into the weekend in very serious contention for his third major championship.

Johnson was 6-under-par in the PGA Championship as he got to the 15th hole of his second round Friday at Bellerive Country Club. At that time, he was three shots behind then-co-leaders Gary Woodland and Kevin Kisner.

But Johnson bogeyed Nos. 6 and 9 (he began Friday’s play on the back nine holes), and had an even-par 70 for a two-day total of 4-under 136. Woodland leads at 10-under, with the second round suspended because of bad weather. It will be resumed Saturday at 7 a.m.

Johnson isn’t out of the title hunt by any means, but he’ll need a Saturday and Sunday chock full o’ birdies.

“I’m happy for the fact I still have a chance on the weekend,” he said.

But Johnson did produce one crowd roar generally reserved for a 30-foot putt Tiger Woods makes for a birdie.

It happened on Johnson’s last hole, No. 9. Yes, that No. 9 he bogeyed.

His tee shot on the par-4 went left. Way left. Like, toward Kansas.

Not knowing if the ball landed in play, he teed up a provisional ball and smacked it in a better place. Then he found where the original shot rested.

It was down a slope and inches from being pressed against a wooden fence. It was the kind of lie most of the golfing planet looks at and says there’s nothing you can do with it.

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“I can get it out of here,” Johnson told his caddie, Damon Green, with total certainty. Crowd members standing nearby gave each other looks like “No, you can’t.” But Johnson and his PGA Tour peers didn’t get where they are without bags full of tricks.

Johnson, a right-hander forced to hit left-handed on the shot, smashed it onto the fairway, inciting the aforementioned blast of cheering from the gallery. Officially, the ball traveled just 49 yards. But if Johnson had messed that shot up, he would surely have ended up with a double bogey or worse.

“Unbelievable!” one person shouted.

“That was awesome,” said another.

“Oh man, that was fantastic,” said a third.

Johnson unemotionally climbed back to the fairway and looked at having 169 yards to reach the green, which he did. His putt for par was 13 feet. He nearly made it.

“I felt pretty good about that (second shot),” Johnson said. “It’s not like I practice that a lot. But at the same time, it’s something you’ve got to have in your repertoire, to say the least.

“I was very fortunate there was a rock there, but it was not touching the golf ball. So I could move it. If that rock was not movable, I would have been in deep trouble. I would have taken an unplayable lie — I don’t know what would have happened.”

The errant tee shot on 9 was his third over his final four holes. Concerned?

“No. Just bad swings. … I know what I need to do, it’s just a matter of doing it.”

Meanwhile, Zach J. Johnson can say he beat golf’s better-known Zach Johnson, at least for one round.

Utah assistant club pro Zach J. Johnson, called that this week at the PGA to distinguish himself from the other Zach Johnson, shot a 69 Friday. That came a day after his opening-round 76, so he’ll miss the 36-hole cut.

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“He’s been great every time we ran into each other,” Zach J. Johnson said about Zach Johnson. “Yesterday in the locker room after he shot 66, I shot 76. — yeah, 66, 76 — I said ‘Tomorrow give me five (shots) a side and we’ll have a game.’”

That offer was in jest. If it hadn’t been, Utah would have itself quite a golf hustler.

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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