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Zach Johnson needs an equalizer
With the exception of Phil Mickelson, there’s only one Masters Tournament champion since 2007 who has won a PGA Tour event following his Augusta win – and he’s won seven of them.
That would be Zach Johnson, the 2007 Masters champ, who has done it with little fanfare.
The roll call of champions that followed Johnson at Augusta National who are winless on the tour since donning the green jacket are Trevor Immelman (2008), Angel Cabrera (2009), Charl Schwartzel (2011) and Bubba Watson (2012).
Of that trio, only Cabrera and Schwartzel have won anywhere. Cabrera won the Argentina Open in December and Schwartzel won twice at the end of 2012 – in the Thailand Golf Championship and the Alfred Dunhill Championship (by 12 shots).
Mickelson, who is already in the World Golf Hall of Fame, has won three times on the PGA Tour since his third Masters victory, in 2010.
Johnson’s next victory will be the 10th of his career.
“He’s probably one of the toughest competitors in the game,” said Damon Green, who has been Johnson’s caddie since his rookie year on the PGA Tour in 2004. ‘‘The guy loves to compete, he loves to win. He never gives up. I think he gets the most out of his game than any player on tour.”
Because he’s not a long hitter off the tee, the 5-foot-11, 160-pound Johnson relies on his iron play and short game to get around the lead. When he gets there, he’s hard to shake, as evidenced by his 3-0 record in playoffs.
“When I get into contention, for some reason I’m able to come through,” the 37-year-old Johnson said.
He also doesn’t take many weekends off. Through the Cadillac Championship in mid-March, he had made 196 cuts in 244 starts.
“My career has been very, very consistent,” Johnson said. “I make a ton of cuts.”
“And when we do miss a cut, it’s usually by one or two shots,” Green said. “Rarely does he have anywhere he is blown out of the tournament. We’re always in the tournament, even to the last few holes. That’s his game. He’s consistent in about every aspect of his game. He doesn’t have a standout in any category, but he’s very good in all categories.”
Since his win at Augusta National, Johnson has missed the cut twice (2009 and 2011) while finishing tied for 20th in his Masters defense in 2008, 42nd in 2010 and tied for 32nd last year.
He calls his Masters record since his victory “average at best. It’s a conditions thing there. A lot of those years after that it was wet so there was no roll. That’s very difficult for me to win.”
The 2007 Masters, which Johnson won with 1-over-par 289 – tying the highest winning score in tournament history – was right up his alley.
“It was a U.S. Open-kind of year there,” Johnson said. “It was really windy and really firm and fast. The ball released in the fairways. I putted pretty well. I haven’t putted well there the last four or five years.”
“We had a lot better chance (in 2007),” Green said. “Pars were at a premium that week.”
In 2007, Johnson used superb iron play to make 11 birdies on the par-5s, never going for one of those greens in two shots.
Since then, Green said, “Guys can reach the par-5s with shorter clubs now, and it’s still hard for us to reach par-5s. We have to play kind of a different strategy.”
Green believes his man can “absolutely” win a second Masters.
“We play it (Augusta National) every year,” Green said. “We know that course like the back of our hand now. When we go to these other majors, we’re having to learn all the nuances and everything every year. I think he’s more confident when he goes there, sure.”
Johnson credits his success to a team that “trusts in me and that I trust. They support me on and off the golf course.”
That team consists of Green, instructor Mike Bender, sports psychologist Morris Pickens, trainer Chris Noss and physical therapist Dr. Troy Van Biezen.
“I’m a product of hard work. I’ve been blessed to play this game with minimal injuries and blessed to have a great team of individuals,” Johnson said.
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