CROMWELL - Zach Johnson didn’t want to get too excited. After all, it was the opening round of what he hopes will be a four-day tournament.
But Johnson’s Thursday outing at the Travelers Championship was already much different than his opening round at last week’s U.S. Open, where he was one of the most vocal critics about Shinnecock. And he certainly didn’t seem to mind the change in scenery.
Johnson finished his opening round at the Travelers at a 7-under 63, with eight birdies, including a stretch of six straight from holes 11-16. Last week, the world’s No. 54 ranked golfer was 3-over with five bogeys. Johnson is tied for the lead with Jordan Spieth.
“I felt good coming into the week. I felt good going into last week,” said Johnson, a two-time major winner. “But today was kind of a day where if I just remained patient and stayed in it, hit a lot of fairways, lot of greens. I think I missed two greens. I hit quality shots; gave myself, gave my putter an opportunity and capitalized on a bunch of those.”
What helped Johnson the most was he was able to make shots when he had to. He avoided many of the mistakes that plagued him at the U.S. Open, and his first round at TPC River Highlands last year, where he finished with seven bogeys over his last 11 holes before missing the cut the next afternoon.
He had both his driver and short game working Thursday and just missed a couple of opportunities to make his score even lower. A chip in for birdie on 10 lipped out and an eagle opportunity on 13 did the same thing.
“To execute shots when you know you have to, especially when you've got momentum, it's fun,” Johnson said. “You know, I kind of got caught up in my numbers on the putting green there, but when it comes to hitting shots, I thoroughly enjoy having the confidence to just go up there and hit. That's what I was doing today, whether it was a putt or a shot, and it felt good.”
At the same time, this has also been the way the majority of the 42-year-old’s season has gone. Johnson has only missed one cut - at the Fort Worth Invitational - but has finished inside the top five just once. He has every intention of changing that this week, yet is putting everything in perspective considering the talent of the field, which has six of the top 11 players in the world.
“I'm not out here to make cuts, but at the same time, I'm putting myself in an opportunity to climb the board,” Johnson said. “That's all you can ask for, especially considering how good and how deep this field is week in, week out. But today's one day. I feel good. It's always a great position to be in going into the second round. But I'm encouraged with the direction of my game.”
Next will be following up with a solid second round, something Johnson believes is entirely possible considering the way the course plays, even if it’s not quite like Thursday’s start.
“It's about execution,” Johnson said. “You've just got to go out and execute, you know, put the ball on the fairway and you will have opportunity.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org