SOUTHPORT, England – Stronger winds and soggy weather came with a fury Friday on Day 2 of the British Open.
So did two-time major champion Zach Johnson.
Amid gusts of up to 42 mph, the Iowa City native carded an impressive 4-under-par 66 under prototypical U.K. gray skies at Royal Birkdale. He stands at 1-over 141 for the tournament.
His was the best score on a dreary, drenching, dust-up of a day.
“Today was solid,” Johnson said. “I made a nice par on 1, and then after that I think I might have hit one errant shot, if you really want to try to pick it apart.
“Just a great rhythm out there. I guess the other factor that just hit me is this is the wind I essentially practiced in. I didn’t have really too many opportunities to play yesterday’s wind.”
Johnson, winner of the 2015 British Open at St. Andrews, went out at 32 on the front side, collecting birdies at the second and fifth holes.
He picked up three more birdies on the back at Nos. 11, 12 and 18 to pull within seven shots of leader Jordan Spieth. His lone bogey came at the 438-yard, par-4 16th.
“I mis-clubbed on 16, I guess,” Johnson said. “I was on the green but I was probably 90 some feet away from the hole and three-putted.”
The 41-year-old hit 72 percent of greens in regulation on the sloppy links and hit 27 putts in the round.
“That’s fantastic golf,” said Matt Kuchar, who shot 71 and stood at 4-under for the tournament. “Very, very impressive. I played with (Zach) Tuesday and knew he came off a great week last week. He’s a guy, he’s great at grinding, good at putting the ball in the fairway.”
Not known for hitting the ball long, Johnson averaged just 252 yards off the tee on a day when precision trumped power. Though he hit just 36 percent of fairways his ability to recover was key.
Johnson, the Masters champion in 2007, rebounded nicely from an opening-round 75 in a less breezy background. He cracked his driver during a practice round Tuesday and was less than pleased by his play Thursday with a backup club. He met with his sports psychologist, Dr. Morris Pickens, to soothe his angst. He also hit driver, often, at the practice range. The extra work paid dividends in the deluge.
He heads into the weekend, making his 11th consecutive cut at the British. Heavy rains are expected Saturday but lighter winds.
“I feel good,” Johnson said. “You never know what is going to happen tomorrow. But hopefully there’s some confidence, momentum for the rest of the weekend. It would be a shame if it poured and blew a little harder, it would be a crying shame.”