AUGUSTA, Ga. – Much has been made about all the first-timers in this year’s Masters field. There are 24 in all, which is a tournament record. There was 23 first-timers in 1935, the second year of the event, and you have to go back as far as 1966 to find as many as 22.
Every player vividly remembers his first loop around Augusta, and Zach Johnson is no exception. He played his first Masters in 2005, and was paired with former champion Mark O’Meara. Because of a Monday finish in Atlanta in the previous week’s PGA Tour event, Johnson didn’t even lay eyes on Augusta National Golf Club until Tuesday, and felt a little overwhelmed as the tournament began. Though he felt as if he struck the ball about the same as O’Meara did the first two rounds, on Day 1, O’Meara shot 72 and Johnson signed for 81.
“To say I was a deer in headlights would be an understatement, I had no idea what was going on,” Johnson said. “… It was humbling. It wasn’t necessarily where he hit it, but where he missed it. And the putts and the chips he hit, the knowledge he had, it rubbed off.”
Johnson said there are too many talented newcomers to name a favorite on this year’s Augusta National stage, though he said he’d be “surprised” if a first-timer won. Only three have done so in tournament history – two in the first two years, and Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.
“They’re so talented that these days,” he said, “nothing really surprises me much.”
Asked how long his learning curve here lasted, Johnson did not miss a beat.
“Three years, I guess,” he said, smiling. He won the green jacket in 2007.