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Zach Johnson Steady, Smooth, 3-Under-Par At Masters

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AUGUSTA, Ga. No one should get too carried away by the following parallel. The subject of this piece certainly won't.

But when Zach Johnson won the 2007 Masters, he bogeyed his first hole of the golf tournament and didn't flinch. Thursday, he bogeyed his first hole at the 2013 edition of this tournament. He didn't flinch. Nor did he make another bogey.

When his round was done, he had posted a 3-under-par 69 and had his name on the huge, hand-operated leader boards that are spread across Augusta National. Which prompted a tried-and-true comment from the player.

"You can't win it on Thursday, as they say, all the cliches.

"But I think it's nice to have a good round on Thursday to certainly instill confidence.

This was Johnson's third score in the 60s in 27 rounds here, and left him tied for 10th-place. His best score here was a third-round 68 in 2008.

His play Thursday was smooth, steady, solid. "Pretty solid," he said.

"The back nine, I tapped in for par if I didn't make a birdie. So that was nice. I didn't put myself in a position (on the back nine) to make a bogey ever. A lot of solid shots. I felt good about it."

That bogey on 1? It was, pardon the expression, par for the course Thursday. More players (34) had bogey or worse on that hole than any other.

First-round co-leader Marc Leishman bogeyed No. 1, then shot a 66. Rickie Fowler, Lee Westwood and 2011 Masters champion Charl Schwartzel double-bogeyed the initial hole. They all finished under-par, and Fowler had a 68.

Johnson put his first shot of the tourney in a fairway bunker on the par-4. "Probably the worst drive I hit," he said. He would eventually miss a 12-foot par putt.

Things immediately got better. He reached the green of the par-5 No. 2 in two shots and birdied it. He then peeled off 10 straight pars before birdies on 13, 14 and 18. He capped the round with a what he estimated to be a 13-foot birdie putt.

Johnson never danced with serious trouble in those last 17 holes, and looked like a player in his excellent 2012 form rather than someone who has scuffled through some of his first eight PGA Tour events of the season.

"I was off at the beginning of the year," he said. "I wasn't off mentally, I felt good, my attitude was great. My process was good. Physically, I've been good, pretty healthy. Very healthy, actually.

"But I was off fundamentally. So I can fix that. There's ways to do that.

"So it's nice that the work I've put in ... I would say specifically over the last four to five weeks, is starting to surface."

One of Johnson's two playing partners Thursday and today is 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland. Less than seven months ago, the two dueled in Sunday singles at the Ryder Cup at Medinah, outside Chicago. Johnson won that match, but McDowell's Team Europe did the celebrating a little later that day.

There, most of the fans raucously cheered the U.S. team and were less hospitable toward the European players.

"The Ryder Cup is just totally different, isn't it?" posed Kenny McDowell, Graeme's father, as he watched play at the 17th hole Thursday. Spectators cheered Johnson, McDowell, and their other playing companion, K.J. Choi.

"This is your bread and butter right here," said the elder McDowell.

Oh, yes it is. This is where some golf stars are born, and where legends are defined.

And yes, this was just one round. But better to be in those red (under-par) numbers when today's play starts. You go from there.

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