SILVIS, Ill. — A lot of people were thinking it when Zach Johnson still had seven holes left to play Thursday at the John Deere Classic.
Johnson’s gregarious father-in-law, Davis Barclay, shunned superstition and said it aloud.
That magical golf score, the lowest ever recorded on the PGA Tour, seemed within Johnson’s reach for a while. He was 8-under-par through his first 11 holes on the par-71 TPC Deere Run track, playing conditions were docile, and Johnson was sending darts into the greens.
But finishing his round on holes 3 through 9 — the toughest stretch of holes on the course — the Cedar Rapidian peeled off seven straight pars. It wasn’t that he didn’t hit plenty of good shots on those holes. He didn’t miss a fairway all day. But the birdie train had finally run out of steam.
That was still good enough for a 63, Johnson’s 21st-straight round in the 60s here and his best score in 43 JDC rounds spanning 13 years. It left him tied for the first-round lead with Rory Sabbatini and Brian Harman after all the players with morning tee-times had finished play.
But oh, what might have been.
“I think @ZachJohnsonPGA likes @JDCLASSIC!” 3-time JDC champion Steve Stricker tweeted Thursday morning before going out to play himself. “6 under thru 8! I’m thinking @PaulGoydosPGA and 59. #59watch”
“Well, the thought is going to enter into your mind,” Johnson admitted. “It entered my mind, but it entered my mind very briefly.
“I don’t want to say I should have shot 61 or 58 or 60 or 59, but I had a chance.
“It’s one of those things where if I shoot 59 or 58, OK, congrats. You’ve still got three days, you know?
“Certainly if you get it, you get it. You can say you did it because it is a pretty unique fraternity, but it ain’t that big of a deal to me. I’d rather have 59 wins than shoot 59.”
Goydos had an opening-round 59 here in 2010. He is one of six players who have shot a 59 in any PGA Tour event. Johnson and Phil Mickelson are the only players in Tour history who have shot 60 twice.
The important thing for Johnson was just that he played well. Last year’s JDC, in which Johnson tied for second, began a sustained stretch of play that was the best in his career.
Johnson hadn’t done a whole lot in his last four tourneys, with a 73rd-place, a 53rd, a 40th at the U.S. Open, and a missed cut. He took two weeks off before coming here.
“I’ve found myself a little impatient the weeks prior to this week,” he said. “Impatient probably because, one, I felt like I need another week off. I was anxious for another week off. Then, two, anxious for results.”
But there’s no place like home, and the JDC has been Johnson’s golf castle. He has a win and three other top-three finishes here in the last five years. He’s been on the tourney’s board of directors for almost a decade. This year, John Deere became one of his corporate sponsors.
In his post-round press conference, someone asked Johnson if he felt pressure to continue to conquer.
“Conquer, that’s a big word right there,” he replied. “I don’t feel like I’m a czar or anything like that.”
“Well, you’re on the board,” he was told.
“I’m not the chairman,” Johnson said.
“Yet,” chimed in PGA Tour communications director Doug Milne.
“Yet,” Johnson echoed. “Thank you, Dougie. I’m working on that.”
He was joking about that, but was serious when he said these things:
“I just love the golf course.”
And, “It was a great day.”
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