Zach Johnson keeps bombers at bay in Round 1 of PGA

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Zach Johnson keeps bombers at bay in Round 1 of PGA

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Zach Johnson keeps bombers at bay in Round 1 of PGA

ST. LOUIS – For all the talk about Bellerive Country Club favoring the long-hitters this week at the PGA Championship, Zach Johnson finds himself two shots off the lead after 18 holes.

Johnson averaged 278.6 yards off the tee on Thursday, which ranked him 125th out of 156 players in the field. But he gained his shots on and around the greens, and made five birdies to shoot 4-under 66.

The Midwest native from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, isn’t surprised.

“I don’t think it necessarily is a bomber’s paradise just because of the way the greens are in particular,” Johnson said. “… If I’m hitting a 7-iron in and they’re hitting 9s and wedges, I mean, I’m playing 3 yards of release and they’re maybe playing no release. So it’s not that significant as far as being that penal.”

With length not an issue so far at soft and steamy Bellerive, Johnson can rely on his major-championship experience. Not only has he won two majors, the 2007 Masters and 2015 British Open, but he also has seven other top-10s in golf’s biggest championships.

In the last two seasons, he has made six of seven major cuts with three top-20s. In his last major start, at the British Open, he contended early at Carnoustie before shooting 72-74 on the weekend and tying for 17th.

Johnson also might know Bellerive better than most in the field this week. He paid the St. Louis layout a visit last Monday, playing 18 holes in a cart. The early trip allowed Johnson to lighten his practice load earlier this week. He didn’t play the course Monday, and got in nine holes each on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“I don’t know if it’s an advantage,” Johnson said, “but from a recovery standpoint this week and the fact that it’s August and the year’s been long and the humidity and the heat, I think it was a wise move.”

It’s not getting any cooler at Bellerive this week. And Johnson won’t be getting much longer, either. So far, though, neither has seemed to have an effect on the two-time major winner.

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