May 29, 2016

Partly sunny

Zach Johnson hoping past success helps this year at Bridgestone

AKRON — When the best golfers come to a course that is more finicky than a teenager buying back-to-school clothes, sometimes experience and past success can help.
With just one 2008 win on the Tour among the leaders at the Bridgestone Invitational, Zach Johnson turned in an impressive round Thursday and sits one shot behind leader Retief Goosen. Tied with Johnson after shooting 3-under 67s were Daniel Chopra, Vijay Singh and Tim Clark.
“I’ve had some good rounds here,” said Johnson. “I’ve had some decent finishes, but I’ve always had the opportunity to have some really good finishes and never have.”
Therein is the rub with the 2007 Masters champion. He shot an opening round 65 at Firestone Country Club in 2004 but faded, finishing tied for 22nd and came through with another 65 in the second round last year, but carded an 8-over on his last two rounds.
The Iowan does have a ninth-place finish (2005) and wound up tied for 11th in 2007, so he does know what it’s like to be in the hunt.
“The more and more you play this course, the better off you are, especially knowing where to hit it around the greens,” Johnson said. “I’m just staying patient. I’m at the point right now in the season where I’ve nothing to lose, so I’m just going to go out and free-wheel it and have fun.”
Johnson, who is looking for his first top-10 finish since the World Golf Championships CA Championship in March, shot the low round of the afternoon.
Johnson started out on fire with birdies on Nos. 2, 4, 5 and 6 before making bogey on No. 7. He then played even on the back nine, making a birdie on 12 after scoring a bogey on 10.
The three-time PGA Tour winner walked off within striking distance of Goosen, knowing that there’s still a lot more golf to be played.
“When it comes to experience on golf courses, it’s where to hit it certainly, where to leave the ball around the greens,” Johnson said. “But out here, I think the golf course is pretty straightforward enough off the tee that you know what you’ve got to do.
“That’s the beauty of it. There’s your target, you’ve got to hit it in the fairway.”
Goosen, whose last PGA Tour win came at The International in 2005, enjoyed a rare solid round in Akron.
With just one sub-par finish in his last 13 rounds at Firestone, Goosen marked his lowest opening round on the PGA Tour since a 66 at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in 2006.
It’s the fifth time the South African has held or shared a lead on the PGA Tour.
“I played solid today,” Goosen said. “You know, the first time I missed the fairway was No. 11, so I drove the ball well and scrambled a bit at the end.”
Goosen went off at 3-under after nine and was as deep as 5-under through 11, but a bogey on 15 brought him back to the field a bit.
Still, Goosen — whose top finish this season was a tie for runner-up at the CA Championship — will take the lead and run.
“The course isn’t playing tough,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s playing easy, but the rough is not nearly as thick as it was last year. You’ve still got three days of growth ahead. But the course played long this morning. I didn’t expect 4-under to lead.
“Scoring is going to be a bit lower here than it was obviously last year because the rough is just not quite as heavy.”
Contact Brad Bournival at 329-7135 or