Zach Johnson turns corner just in time for British Open

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Zach Johnson turns corner just in time for British Open

PGA Tour

Zach Johnson turns corner just in time for British Open

SOUTHPORT, England – Padraig Harrington perhaps put it best on Monday at Royal Birkdale: “It’s not one dimensional, the Open Championship.”

In truth, as players prepare for the 146th edition of golf’s oldest major championship, it really is anyone’s championship. Long hitters. Short hitters. Supreme ballstrikers. Short-game wizards. Unlike the U.S. Open, someone likely isn’t going to bomb their way to victory at the British Open.

Arguably the only requirement is to keep the ball in play and avoid the ever-looming pot bunkers sprinkled throughout the property. Oh, and experience certainly doesn’t hurt.

Zach Johnson has plenty of that. The 41-year-old Iowa City native missed his first three career cuts at the British Open, but has been perfect in 10 tries since. He boasts five finishes of T-16 or better, including his triumph at St. Andrews in 2015.

And though he enters this year’s British Open just 87th in the FedEx Cup standings (his T-5 last week at the John Deere Classic moved him up from No. 103), Johnson’s comfort with links golf gives him confidence.

“I love what (the British Open) demands and certainly what it requires out of my game,” Johnson said.

Johnson isn’t the longest hitter in pro golf. He ranks T-132 on the PGA Tour, averaging 287.1 yards off the tee. But that’s no secret. Johnson has always used strong wedge play and a deft short game to get the job done.

The two-time major winner struggled with his ballstriking earlier this season, but led the field in strokes gained-tee to green at the Deere to improve to 76th in that category on Tour. He’s also 69th in strokes gained-putting.

“At this point, with the way my game is situated, I know it’s just a matter of going out and executing, which I like,” Johnson said.

Johnson arrived in Manchester, England on Monday morning on the John Deere players’ charter and got to Royal Birkdale on Monday afternoon. He hasn’t pushed himself in prep, opting to play nine holes each day; he didn’t even set a wake-up alarm on Tuesday morning.

But he feels confident in his chances, even if he didn’t remember too much about the course coming in. The last time Johnson played Royal Birkdale, he tied for 51st in 2008. One thing he did remember, though, was the brutal weather.

“Go figure, but it was awful,” Johnson said. “I remember hitting a 4-iron from 270 (yards) and a 4-iron from 110.”

The weather forecast for this week is much better than it was nine years ago. Johnson is equally more experienced across the pond than he was in 2008.

So when Harrington, the last British Open champ at Birkdale, calls this championship one for the long of tooth, that sentiment definitely favors the experienced Johnson.

“A lot of the younger guys are physically gifted, but they don’t have the experience with links golf,” Harrington said. “Assuming decent, tough enough conditions, it’s a tournament for experience.”

That could mean a second Claret Jug for Johnson.

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