For someone who has played a lot of golf this year, Zach Johnson is holding up fairly well, save for a little stiffness in his neck.
The 37-year-old Iowa City, Iowa, native is playing in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open at TPC Summerlin after taking a week off. He needed the rest after playing a 24-event schedule on the PGA Tour, plus the recent Presidents Cup, where he helped the United States to its fifth straight victory over the International team.
And if Johnson continues his hot play of the past couple of months, which included a FedEx Playoffs win at the BMW Open, he could be the man to beat at the Shriners Open, which begins today and ends Sunday. The LVH has made him a 10-1 favorite.
“It still feels like I’m playing in the 2013 season,” said Johnson, whose only other appearance at the Shriners Open was in 2008, when he tied for 10th. “I’m just going to continue doing what I’m doing.
“I know the numbers start over, and the points start over and the lists start over, but my game is where it needs to be, and I’m going to continue to play.”
Johnson credits his success to the adjustments he made over the summer that brought consistency to his game. He drove the ball better. He putted better. His confidence level rose, and in his final eight events, he had only one finish outside the top 10.
“I learned a lot, certainly patience and trust and that sort of thing, but also technically speaking, I was off fundamentally, so I learned some things there, too,” he said.
His stellar play at the BMW Open in Chicago from Sept. 12 to 15 carried over to the Presidents Cup, where he and Jason Dufner teamed to help the U.S. win the competition on Oct. 6 despite having to endure rain and weather delays.
“Yeah, it was brutal,” he said of the long week at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio. “But we know what rain delays are about. But as tough as it is for us, it’s really tough for the staff on the PGA Tour, the rules officials and the grounds crews at each event. So hitting golf balls isn’t the hardest thing.”
Johnson probably won’t have to worry about rain this weekend. He loves TPC Summerlin, despite the fact he’s played it only once in competition.
“It’s got enough challenging holes, and I love the bent-grass greens, which is what I grew up playing on,” he said. “It’s a fair course, and if there’s no wind, you’re going to see a lot of low scores, so you’ve got to be ready to play right out of the gate.”
Johnson also is following his favorite baseball team, the St. Louis Cardinals, who have a 3-2 lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series. He’s neighbors with pitcher Adam Wainwright and is confident the Cardinals will advance to the World Series.
Johnson had an interesting baseball experience, one that bordered on heresy for a Cardinals fan. In 2007, he sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley Field during a home game of the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis’ main rival.
“They invited me to do it, so I did,” Johnson said. “I think I chanted more than I sang. But I’m definitely not a Cubs fan.”
He’s also a University of Iowa football fan. But Johnson said his complete focus will be on the task at hand in Las Vegas, where he is part of an improved field vying for $6 million in prize money and the 500 FedEx Cup points that will go to Sunday’s winner.
“I think there are a lot of positives with the changes they made to the schedule,” he said. “You’ve got bigger, better tournaments for the fans. You’ve got bigger, better tournaments for us players, and you’re seeing guys show up in the fall that don’t typically play.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.