Through 13 holes of his first round at the Valero Texas Open, Zach Johnson had fallen to three over, a big hole to leave yourself in if you’re trying to make the weekend on a long track that’s not easy to play catch up for anybody, let alone a guy that ranks 144th on the US PGA Tour in driving distance.
But as the two-time Major winner has shown throughout his career, Johnson battled all the way back, starting with an eagle at the par-5 14th on Thursday. Since then he’s played his next 22 holes at TPC San Antonio in 10 under, including Friday’s seven-under 65 that’s given him a share of the lead with Ryan Moore at nine-under 135.
“It was hard, I’m not going to deny that,” Johnson said. “That was one of the better 27-hole stretches that I’ve had in a long time.”
It was a stretch that included three consecutive birdies to close out his first round, and then five more on his first eight holes on Friday. After a front-nine 31, Johnson birdied the first (his 10th) and holed a bunker shot for eagle at the par-4 fifth. His first bogey in 24 holes came on his final hole of the day, the par-4 ninth, but he still found himself tied at the top.
“I felt really good coming into the week. I had done some really good work, both fundamentally on the range, [and] I did some really good work with everybody at PXG to get the right stuff in my hands,” he said.
Johnson had made all 11 of his cuts coming into TPC San Antonio, but had just one top-10 to show for it, and it came all the way back in November at the RSM Classic. But he knew he was getting closer.
“The confidence was there, it just wasn’t showing up on the scorecard. So, truly that 14th tee box [on Thursday] was just a matter of being patient,” Johnson said. “I hit two good shots there in the pro-am and made eagle, nice little hybrid in there, and then did the same thing yesterday and it kind of kickstarted the rest of my round. Obviously I made some putts, but I hit a lot of good shots.”
As for the tough, windy conditions, Johnson is not backing down from more potential elements on Saturday.
“I’ve never been afraid of the wind, that’s always kind of been something that I’ve certainly played well and relished. The Open Championship, some of those other tournaments that I’ve played in, I’ve played well in the wind.
“It’s hard for everybody if there is wind. I just know that solid shots, every kind of shot, using the wind, going into the wind you got to hit it all and that’s the beauty of this golf course.”
Also at nine under is Moore, who carded a five-under 67 on Friday. The five-time tour winner has yet to make a bogey through 36 holes.
“You definitely don’t expect to go around this place bogey-free,” Moore said, “but I controlled the ball nicely, I was in the fairway a lot, my distance control has been great and really my ball-striking has been nice the last few weeks, and the putter hasn’t been cooperating.”
Even with a non-cooperative putter, Moore has managed to play well in his last three starts, finishing T-5 at Bay Hill, T-28 at the Masters and T-16 at Harbour Town.
Andrew Landry and first-round leader Grayson Murray are one back at eight-under 136. Ben Crane, Martin Laird and David Hearn are at six-under 138.
Rod Pampling and Aaron Baddeley are the best of the Australian contingent, reaching two-under par to be T-25 and seven strokes from the lead. The other Australian to make the cut was John Senden, who is even par.
New Zealand’s Danny Lee was also at even par, following up an opening 76 with an impressive four-under 68.
Sadly, Adam Scott’s horror run continues. He tripled-bogeyed his first hole of the day and bogeyed his second to fall to seven over. He rattled off a hat-trick of birdies on two occasions but signed for a 73 to finish at four-over par and three strokes from the cutline.