CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – There was a loud gasp in the media flash area just off the first tee Saturday afternoon at the British Open, where a good number of assembled reporters were waiting for Tiger Woods to talk after his round.
A television in the corner of the room was airing live coverage from Carnoustie and suddenly the conversation from Woods’ 5-under 67 switched to Zach Johnson’s bomb of an eagle putt at the par-5 sixth hole.
His lengthy roll looked to be about the length of a 33-yard field goal attempt for his beloved Iowa Hawkeyes football squad. It carried up and over a large ridge, down the slope with right to left break and finally into the bottom of the cup roughly 100 yards away.
The Cedar Rapids native raised and pumped his right fist and removed his hat, seemingly in disbelief. All he could do was shake his head.
That eagle 3 got Johnson to 7 under in Round 3 of the British Open and back into a share of the lead with Kevin Kisner. He held onto it with another birdie at seven and appeared firmly in control and ready for a spot in Sunday’s final pairing.
Eleven holes later, Johnson was shaking his head for a different reason.
The 2015 British Open champion and two-time major winner closed in uncharacteristically sloppy fashion, with a bogey at the par-4 11th hole followed by a double bogey at the par-4 12th. Johnson shot 3-over 38 on the back nine to fall off the pace entering Sunday’s 7:55 a.m. CT tee time with Englishman Tommy Fleetwood in the sixth-to-last pairing.
Johnson wasn’t made available to media after the disappointing finish, which included another bogey at 17. He was heading back to a rental house that includes 54-hole co-leaders Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner for what is expected to be a pretty quiet night at casa de golf.
“Everybody is probably going to be getting treatment and eating and trying to find a bed,” Kisner said. “I’m sure there will be some conversations. There always are. Everybody has a few horror stories or good laughs over something that happened out there. That will probably be the end of it.”
Maybe a few laughs will do Johnson good and help him bounce back, as he’s still very much alive just four shots off the lead. He was three shots off the lead entering the final round at St. Andrews in 2015 and shot 6-under 66 to take home the Claret Jug by defeating Marc Leishman and Louis Oosthuizen in a three-man playoff.
After a rough closing stretch Saturday, Johnson is hoping history repeats itself this week at Carnoustie.