Sports

Zach Johnson gets as hot as St. Louis

Johnson shoots first-round 66 at PGA Championship, is tied for third

Zach Johnson (with towel on his head) and his caddie, Damon Green, walk to a fairway during Thursday’s first round of the PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis. (Mike Hlas/The Gazette)
Zach Johnson (with towel on his head) and his caddie, Damon Green, walk to a fairway during Thursday’s first round of the PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis. (Mike Hlas/The Gazette)

ST. LOUIS — Zach Johnson was hot Thursday.

How hot? On some of the back nine holes at the PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club, Johnson wore a wet towel over his golf cap.

In a different and more-important way, Johnson was hot Thursday. After parring the first seven holes and being fortunate to have done that, the Cedar Rapids native birdied four of the next five. He finished with a 4-under-par 66 that left him tied for third place, two shots behind leader Gary Woodland.

Johnson wasn’t as worn down by the stifling August St. Louis heat as he could have been. He credited flying in here with Phil Mickelson a week ago Monday to play a quick round for helping him be better refreshed for this major tournament.

“The head pro or somebody mentioned that Phil and I were the only two that came early,” Johnson said. I came Monday of Akron (he played in the World Golf Championships tourney in Akron, Ohio, last week) and played 18 holes in a cart. That way I could really coast into my practice session (this) Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.

“I didn’t do anything Monday. I played nine holes Tuesday, nine holes Wednesday. So I saw 36 holes. I saw it twice.

“From a recovery standpoint this week and the fact that it’s August and the year’s been long and the humidity and the heat, I think it was a wise move. I don’t want to say an advantage, but it was a wise move for me so I only had to play 18 holes in a three-day period.”

It would have been easy to buckle a bit playing in Thursday afternoon’s heat, but Johnson did the opposite. He got in trouble when he hit his tee shots in the thick rough here on the fourth and fifth holes, but scrambled for pars.

“I probably shouldn’t be 4-under, to be honest,” Johnson said.

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“I hit on 4 and 5 the worst drives I’ve hit in I don’t know how long and scraped some pars out of them. It was a scrape-fest there.

“Then I started righting the ship. I hit a lot of good shots, I would say, 6 through — oh, shoot. I mean, pretty much the rest of the round with the exception of my layup shot on 17. A lot of quality shots, and that’s what kind of got me to where I was at.”

He had nice par-saves on 16 and 17, then stuck his approach at 18 within 2 feet of the cup and made the easy birdie putt for a pleasing ending.

“I certainly can’t win it on Thursday,” said Johnson, “but you can take yourself out of it on Thursday. I mean, I would have felt comfortable with anything under par today.”

Johnson’s second-round tee time Friday is 8:23 a.m. He may not need the wet towel until late in the round.

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

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