Eagle at 13 Crystallizes Good Masters Opening Round for Zach Johnson
By Mike Hlas
AUGUSTA, Georgia — It was hard to tell which putt Zach Johnson liked more at the Masters Thursday, his 25-footer for eagle at No. 13 or the delicate 8-footer for par on the final hole.
He didn’t hide his clear pleasure about either at the time, but he had a post-round moment of clarity. Crystal clarity.
“That’s my first eagle here,” Johnson said after his 2-under-par 70 in the Masters’ first round. “So I get crystal.”
All players who make eagles at the Masters are awarded a pair of crystal goblets. Though he had a cumulative total of 11-under-par on Augusta National’s four par-5s in his 2007 championship run, that came from 11 birdies.
They were birdies that all came from laying up on second-shots, followed by good wedges into the greens. Johnson is well-remembered here for that strategy, but hasn’t been hesitant to go for par-5s in two shots since then. The weather has always been far more conducive to scoring since his 1-over total won in ‘07.
With 205 yards to the front of the 13th green from his flat fairway lie, and 238 yards to the 13th hole on Thursday, Johnson reached for his 5-wood. His caddie, Damon Green, had no qualms about the club choice.
“He liked it,” Johnson said. “If he had been adamant about (not going for the green), I would have said ‘OK.’ But that was what was going through my brain.”
He reached the green on that second shot, and the long putt gave him a 3 on the par-5. It moved him from even-par to 2-under, and put his name on the giant leader boards around the course for the first time since the first round of the 2008 tournament.
When the round was over, Johnson was tied for 10th-place, three shots behind leader Lee Westwood, and ahead of a slew of luminaries like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, and world No. 1-ranked Luke Donald.
“You certainly can’t win it on Thursday,” said Johnson. “You can lose it, but you would have to play quite poorly. I shot 2 under. I mean, if I shot 2-over, I wouldn’t be out of it. But I’d rather be sitting at 2-under.”
He played well, cashing in on more opportunities than not, and staying out of trouble almost the entire round.
“I hit two shots today that I was not pleased with,” he said, errant tee shots on the par-3 Nos. 4 and 12 that led to bogeys.
“But I hit a really good sand shot on 12, too,” Johnson said. “Then a good putt just didn’t go in. I hit some really good shots.
“My driver came along nicely starting on 11. ... It went down the middle there. I was like man, that feels better. Maybe a slight adjustment on my hand sort of thing. After that, I didn’t miss a drive. I hit it really good on 18. So it was nice to get the driver going.”
Only six of the 94 other players bettered Johnson’s 12-of-14 in fairways in regulation. Woods hit half as many in his opening-round 72.
Perhaps a moment that showed Johnson was in a good frame of mind came during a disappointment. He 3-putted from about 40 feet on 16 for a bogey. The second of those putts died on the lip of the cup. Johnson stopped to stare at it in one spot, then in another, then in one more, hoping in vain it would fall in the hole on its own.
It stubbornly refused. Appearing unruffled, he tapped it in and quickly put it behind him. He stuck his approach shot six feet from the pin on the par-4 17th and made his birdie try to get that shot back from the previous hole.
Then, he saved par with the aforementioned 8-footer that broke right to left after a chip onto the green wasn’t as good as he would have liked.
“It was just nice to get that (putt) to drop so I could continue on with some momentum for tomorrow,” he said.
Johnson’s second round begins Friday at 7:45 a.m., Iowa time. If his name is still on those leader boards on Friday afternoon, an interesting weekend may be ahead.
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