PGA: Johnson's Strong Second Round Moves Him Up the Leaderboard
By John Campbell, TV9 Sports
By Mike Hlas, Reporter
SILVIS, Ill. — Someone who won a Greater Cedar Rapids Open championship and toiled in golf’s minor leagues for years is in contention at the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic.
Zach Johnson, right? Well, yeah. But also an Englishman who moved to the U.S. to play golf at Auburn University.
In fact, Gary Christian is two shots closer to the lead than Johnson. But after Friday’s second round, they were both in the hunt.
Christian won the GCRO in 2004 as a 32-year-old. In 2006 he began a 6-year stint on the Nationwide (now Web.com) Tour. That’s a lot of paid dues.
By virtue of finishing ninth on that tour’s money list last year, he finally graduated to the PGA Tour as a 40-year-old rookie. He is at 11-under-par here, two shots behind leader Troy Matteson.
Christian would have endeared himself to Iowa Hawkeyes fans Johnson had Johnson heard this exchange between Christian and the media:
Q: It was Illini Day today. Did you think about wearing blue and orange?
A: I thought it was an Auburn Day today. Illini, what do they do?
But let’s focus for a moment on the Cedar Rapids native who has had a typically large fan-following here at TPC Deere Run. Johnson, who won the GCRO back in 2001, played his way into a tie for 11th-place with a 6-under-par 65 that put him at 9-under overall.
“I’m in position,” Johnson said. “There are two more days and I’ve got to put the pedal to the metal. There’s a lot of guys ahead of me, but I’m in position, and that’s what you want.”
Johnson was a scramblin’ man Friday, saving pars on the back nine holes from a greenside bunker, rough that was a foot from a cart path, and mulch underneath a tree. He made a birdie on the par-4 14th after his tee shot landed in a fairway bunker.
“Today was kind of a roller-coaster,” he said, “but I putted great.”
He took only 25 putts, in fact. He had birdie bombs of 29 feet on No. 6 and 31 feet on No. 10.
Christian, meanwhile, sort of referenced a long-ago triumph at Hunters Ridge in Marion when he said “I’ve always enjoyed the Midwest from playing on the mini-tours up here.
“I like the grass, I like the weather, and I like the people.”
When told he wasn’t the only GCRO champ vying for a John Deere trophy, Johnson said “I guess I’m in good company,” getting a laugh from the media.
But he then called the GCRO “a mini-tour major.”
Christian’s season-earnings of $298,102 are a small fraction of Johnson’s $3,084,941. But there’s $828,000 waiting for Sunday’s winner.
“I think when you’re 40 and you’ve had as many downs as I have you appreciate things a lot more,” Christian said.
“My eyes are set on the prize of doing something special.”
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