Saturday, 15 Dec 2018

The Open: Under the radar but well under par like Zach Johnson thrives again

Misleading identity? Zach Johnson is used to it. "I have often been called 'Dustin' … but I doubt that Dustin was often called 'Zach'," he said with a self-deprecating grin.

Despite his collection of 12 tour titles, a plunder that includes two majors, there is still the feeling that when people see the Johnson name on a leaderboard, the assumption is that Dustin will not be Zach.

Underrated, underestimated, under the radar? Maybe, but Zach Johnson is also below average in Carnoustie. His sturdy '67' for a six-sub unit had placed him handy midway, while those sturdy perennial opener reaffirmed his affection for the oldest major of the game.

The 42-year-old has put together a good deal of work in this championship, including a win three years ago, but not for the first time there was little excitement about him under construction. It's almost as if he were launching a kind of secret attack under the cover of darkness.
After Johnson lost the first three places in the Open, he finished second in Carnoustie in 2007. Since then, he has completed the weekend every year, and in addition to this victory at St Andrews in 2015, he has top four in the last six years.

Does the lack of attention disturb him? Not in the least. "I am very much used to it," said the former Masters Champion.

"Maybe I'm just too conservative and boring and that's fine, I just want to compete, it does not matter where it is or what it is, just give me a chance."

Johnson used his chance yesterday with a targeted boost that added to his title win.

A roped tee on the first led to a bogey, but the answer was quick and three birdies in four holes from the third made him move.

After a four on the Par-5 14th, Johnson finished with a swing and rolled in a 40-foot raking putt for a birdie last. Not many do that.

"I think my game is suitable for this championship because my style can play here," said Johnson, who is more known for his play within 100 yards than his ability to unleash long-range missiles from tea.

"Everyone says you have to hit it hard, knock it down, hit it, and you do, you have to use the ground, you have to know where to land, but you have to beat it, hit it on the left, hit it You have to hold it, you have to turn it, use the wind, you have to do it all.

"I do not claim that anyone has no higher veneration for Claret Jug than I do … but I would argue with them."
As a 40-year-old, Johnson is an elderly resident in House Sharing, which he does at events with a group that includes Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler and incumbent open winner Jordan Spieth.

A few years ago the group made a pact that the one who wins the Claret Jug has to prepare for the private jet that will take them back across the Atlantic. How does the other half live?

"I did not pay last year," Johnson said. "But I would be happy to rip this time off."

If he gets a second Claret Jug this weekend, Johnson certainly will not fly under the radar.

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