AKRON — In order to get a chance at the green — money, that is — at the Bridgestone Invitational, Zach Johnson channeled the green.
Jacket, that is.
With a 5-under-par 65 on Friday, the reigning Masters champion thought back to his days in April when he surprised the field at Augusta National.
There was no surprising anyone at Firestone Country Club as Johnson overcame a first-day 71 with an impressive second round that included six birdies against a single bogey to tie Davis Love III for the low round of the day.
While Augusta and Firestone are two completely different courses, the goal remains the same.
“My approach, I think any given day, is to attack when the opportunity presents itself,” he said. “I mean, this golf course you can’t clearly overpower it, and I really can’t attack it.
“But I can pick it apart. If I’ve got control of my golf ball, I can pick it apart. Today I did.”
He did it with the same approach that gave him a major championship. With the greens running fast and the fairways pushing balls out to the rough, Johnson concentrated on the finer things.
He hit 14 greens in regulation and managed to keep it on the fairway all but five times. Throw in a sand save and it’s not hard to see how Johnson charged back into contention.
“My game plan is pretty obvious,” he said. “I’ve got to hit the driver solid and get it in the fairway, and then putt well. That’s part of the reason I did so well at Augusta. I tend to putt well on fast greens. It’s kind of what I grew up on. It’s what I enjoy.
“It’s just a matter of getting the ball in the fairway. The fairways are pure. They’re running fast, clearly, so it’s positioning yourself in the fairway so you have an opportunity to hit the green.”
Another one down
Firestone claimed its second major champion Friday. Mike Weir, the 2003 Masters champion, had to withdraw after the 10th hole with a neck injury. He was 12 over at the time.
Earlier in the week, 2003 U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk had to scratch with a back injury.
“I hit out of the rough on four and I felt something,” Weir said. “And then on nine I hit one out of the rough and I just felt it tighten right up. I thought, ‘There’s no way, I’m going to ruin this for next week.’”
That would be the PGA Championship.
No wonder Tiger Woods is all smiles when he steps onto the South Course. Through 30 competitive rounds since the tournament became a World Golf Championship in 1999, he’s averaging just a tad over 3 under per round. He also comes into Akron with just under $6.4 million in winnings. And that’s only in WGC events at Firestone.
While Johnson cruised to the top, the rest of the major champions slipped up. U.S. Open king Angel Cabrera went 73-76 and is 9 over for the tournament. British Open champion Padraig Harrington got closer to par after two rounds, but is still 1 over for the tournament.
Firestone has held three PGA Championships and a Senior PGA Championship in its illustrious career. Johnson doesn’t see a reason why another major can’t be around the corner.
“Some of the guys were joking around lunch, or maybe it was on the golf course, that this is one of those courses where if the USGA or the U.S. Open needed an emergency course, I think you could probably come here in a week’s time,” he said. “Everybody talks about Firestone Country Club. You’re talking about one of the best there is.”
That’ll leave a mark
Luke Donald found out how easy it is to go from 2 under to 2 over on one hole.
Just 148 yards away on his third shot at the par-5, 667-yard 16th, the Englishman plunked his approach into the water. After taking a drop, his next shot went swimming as well. Before it was all over, he took a nine.
Of course, a couple expletives followed as he stomped off to 17th.
Charley Hoffman tamed No 16. From 268 yards out on his second shot, he put it 10 yards from the pin in the rough on the left and holed out for an eagle.
• Ian Poulter lovers have not been disappointed this week. After wearing a neon pink getup on Wednesday’s practice round, the Englishman went one better on Friday with an Army green outfit complete with a yellow outside seam down the side of his pants.
Contact Brad Bournival at firstname.lastname@example.org.