Zach Johnson still in search for answers after worst John Deere Classic round in 11 years

Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports

Zach Johnson still in search for answers after worst John Deere Classic round in 11 years

PGA Tour

Zach Johnson still in search for answers after worst John Deere Classic round in 11 years

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SILVIS, Ill. — The Zach Johnson story is one that will forever live in the most hallowed halls of Iowa sports history: 12 career PGA Tour victories, two major championships, more than a fair chance at the World Golf Hall of Fame.

But the past 14 months might have been the most frustrating of the Cedar Rapids native’s professional career. He’s got just one top-10 finish in that span, and he hasn’t finished better than 16th this calendar year.

Coming off three weeks of mental and physical rest following the U.S. Open, he was a fountain of optimism Tuesday in his pre-tournament news conference. By Thursday evening, not even the friendly confines of the John Deere Classic seemed to be on his side.

For the first time in 11 years, Johnson failed to break par at TPC Deere Run, bogeying the 18th hole to card a 1-over-par round of 72. The last time the Drake alum was over par in any round in the Quad Cities was the third round in 2008, when he shot a 75 on his way to finishing 69th.

SCORES: John Deere Classic | Tee times

That’s a run of 41 rounds that comes to an end. Just three of those 41 trips were at even par. Johnson overshot three greens Thursday with wedges or short irons in his hands, and he made four bogeys on the afternoon.

“Time to start a new streak, that’s what I think,” Johnson said. “At some point, it’s probably going to happen. Unfortunately, it was today.”

If he doesn’t, the 43-year-old will miss the cut at this weekend’s event for the first time since 2007, which might be a narrative capper to more than a year without answers.

Ballad of the Young Guns, Day 1

Viktor Hovland and Collin Morikawa shared a bizarre honor heading into this year’s John Deere Classic.

The two rookies aren’t officially card-carrying PGA Tour members yet, as they’re using sponsors’ exemptions and other special invites to try and earn their fast track into full-time status.

That relative inexperience — the two had six professional starts between them entering this week — didn’t cause the oddsmakers to balk.

At least one prominent sportsbook website listed Hovland and Morikawa as the top two betting favorites heading into the week, and they were among the favorites in several other ventures. According to SportsBetting.ag, it’s the first time two PGA non-members with rookie eligibility were the top two tournament favorites in a Tour-sanctioned event.

The two are even paired together for the first two rounds. And although each had highlights, the results are more reflective of learning one’s PGA Tour chops than the incredible standard some newcomers have set in 2019.

Hovland’s round was best described by the 21-year-old himself: “Nothing really happened. I just hit a lot of greens — the middle of the green — and didn’t really get close.”

Indeed, he took 31 putts and was bogey-free before his final hole (the ninth). He settled for a 2-under 69.

The most interesting development in his round was a fascinating par save at the 15th, his sixth hole of the day. After driving the ball in the right rough, he attempted to punch the ball through a gap in the trees toward the green. His approach was too high, however, catching a tree limb and squirting into the left edge of a bunker some 60 yards in front of him.

Now, Hovland faced an awkward stance with his feet out of the bunker in the fairway and a hanging lie. He did well to put his third shot 25 feet from the hole before coaxing in the downhill putt to maintain momentum.

“I was about to say to (caddie Shay Knight) that that was the (best) up-and-down of the last four or five weeks that I’ve had in a row here,” Hovland said.

There are more than 50 players ahead of Hovland on the leaderboard, but he’s only a handful of shots off the pace. A round of sharper approaches Friday will get him closer to the consecutive top-15 finishes he’s used to.

“Just looking at the leaderboard, you can see it’s doable,” he said.

Other results from the four sponsor’s exemptions:

  • Morikawa stalled on his second nine, as well, after playing the back nine in 2-under 33. He had two bogeys in his final seven holes to close with a 1-under 70 while failing to birdie any of Deere Run’s three par-5s.
  • Matt Wolff birdied Nos. 1-3 as part of a 4-under second to finish with a 67. Last week’s winner of the 3M Open was bogey-free to hover in the top 25.
  • Justin Suh hovered within a shot of par for his entire round before finishing at 1-under, thanks to a birdie on the par-5 17th hole.

Woes before the weekend

It’s hard to fathom just how fleeting golf success can be. There’s no better example right now than defending John Deere Classic champion Michael Kim.

The 25-year-old broke the tournament’s 72-hole scoring record last year by finishing a remarkable 27-under. He won by eight shots, another Quad Cities mark.

In his 28 events since, Kim hasn’t finished in the top 30. He’s missed 23 cuts, including the past 18 in a row.

Gulp.

Thursday’s first round at Deere Run didn’t provide a ray of light. He made four bogeys on the way to a 2-over 73.

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