Zach Johnson: Came Ready to Play

Zach Johnson showed up at Tiger Wood’s Northwestern Mutual World Challenge fresh and ready to play. Even so he made two bogeys at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, California. No worries; he made seven birdies to get to 5-under 67 and grab a one-stroke lead over Mr. Consistency, Matt Kuchar.

One of the reasons things went so well for Johnson is that he was fresh from his equipment updates and annual planning meeting with his team:

I like [coming to California] because I come a little bit early and I go down to the northern part of San Diego and work with Titleist and get some good work done there.  It’s always a good time for me to do that.  I had my whole team here at the beginning of the week.  We had our end‑of‑the‑year summit, which is essentially a day and a half of discussion and formulating and planning and that sort of thing.  I like doing that out here.

Johnson, who is not particularly long, feasted on the par-5s, primarily because he knows his strengths and weaknesses: he birdied 4 of the 5. But it wasn’t exactly easy.

Well, you know, there’s five of them.  That’s actually one of my — I don’t want to say priorities, but a highlight that we’re looking into next year is trying to play those holes a little bit better, strategy‑wise.  I don’t know if that’s why I did that today.  I hit it close.  I mean, I hit it close on 2.  I hit it close on 11, 13, and I hit it close on 16.  I mean, I had good shots in there with the proper spin, nothing more than that.

But you’ve got to take advantage of them.  You’ve got five of them.  The thing is out here there’s a couple in particular, 16 — well, all of them.  One errant shot you’re staring a 6 right in the face, if not more.  There’s a lot of penal areas.  I’m going to play 16 as a three‑shot hole regardless of where it is, just because it’s the way it sets up for me.

And speaking of the host, Tiger Wood’s, he has a lot on his mind. This is the last year that the tournament will be played at Sherwood. Next year it moves to Orlando, Florida, and his former home course, Isleworth Country Club. If he has to give up luring players to his California “home turf” where he’s been highly successful, it’s not so bad to have it on his first Floridian home turf.

We’ve been here for 15 years now, and it’s been just an amazing, amazing 15 years.  We’ve had an ability to raise $25 million over those 15 years and build a learning center here in Southern California basically because of this event.

With all the sponsors we’ve had over the years and the volunteers and all the players who have supported us throughout the years have made this event as special as it is.  And on top of that, we’ve helped so many kids around the country and have been able to open up a lot of other learning centers around the country because of this event, so it means a lot to us.

One of the elements that went into the decision to move the tournament is the changing nature of the professional golf calendar.

It’s just one of those things where with the golf calendar has changed quite dramatically with our FedExCup ending and then obviously with the [European Tour’s] Race to Dubai, it’s harder to get good players to play, quite frankly.  And sponsorship dollars are certainly not exactly easy to come by in these economic times.  Tavistock [the 25-year luxury real estate sales management company] has been — I’ve played in their tournament for a number of years now, Tavistock Cup, and I know Joe since I’ve moved on to Florida.  So it made sense for us to move.

It was certainly not an easy decision.  Certainly wasn’t an easy decision, but there are a lot of players that are based there in Florida.  It will be a little easier for the guys to make a trek out instead of coming all the way out here, to stay right there in Florida.

As for his play Thursday, his 1-under 71 puts him in 5th by himself, one back of Hunter Mahan and Bubba Watson. He bogeyed the 1st hole, birdied two of the par-5s and made par everywhere else.

I felt like I hit the ball decent today.  I missed two short ones there at 1 and the kick‑in at 18.  That’s a couple shots right there, and I’m only two back.  But I had a couple good ones on the back nine today end up in some very interesting spots.  The golf course is kind of set up that way right now.

There’s some tough pins out there.  You miss them on the wrong spots, you’re going to pay a price, and I think that’s kind of what’s signified in the scoring.  No one is running away with it.  Nobody went low today.  A bunch of guys at even par or over par.  This golf course is set up tough, and if this forecast holds true, [the bad weather] we’ve got coming in on the weekend, if that holds true, this is going to make for one hell of a test.

So the name of the game for Friday is to get as low as they can. The best thing you can have in really tough weather is a big cushion to begin with.

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