KAPALUA, Hawaii – Zach Johnson wants to avoid three-putts and score better on the par 5s. He did neither Saturday at Kapalua, and still built a three-shot lead.
Johnson relied on great wedge play and a few timely putts for a 7-under 66 to take the lead after two rounds of the Tournament of Champions. Defending champion Dustin Johnson (66), Matt Kuchar (68) and Jordan Spieth (70) were tied for second as the winners-only tournament started to show some separation. Johnson was at 13-under 133.
He failed to birdie any of the par 5s, and he three-putted one of them at No. 5 after hitting 5-iron into the back of the green. None of that mattered the way Johnson was feeding wedges into the right spots of the green to set up birdie chances. He ran off four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the front nine, and a few good chips kept him from getting seriously close to a bogey.
Dustin Johnson approaches the Plantation Course differently. He birdied all the par 5s with his length, and only fell back with a pair of bogeys on the back nine when he missed short putts. Even so, he was in good position heading into the final two rounds of a tournament that ends Monday.
“This golf course sets up well for me,” Dustin Johnson said. “I can reach all the par 5s, and there’s a few short holes where you can drive it up close to the green. So, if I chip and it and putt it well, I’m going to shoot a good score pretty much every time.”
So what does Zach Johnson make of that outlook?
“I would say I’m up by three gross, and by eight or nine net, based on that rationale,” he said.
Clearly, there’s more than one way to get around a course built on a side of the mountain on the west end of Maui.
Kuchar had his second straight round of 68 with some good birdies and a few bogeys. Spieth had said he shouldn’t make too many bogeys on this course if he kept it in play, though he made one on No. 7 to lose some momentum. Even so, the 20-year-old Texan had few complaints after his opening two rounds of a new year.
Webb Simpson and Michael Thompson, part of a four-way tie for the lead after the opening round, each had a 71 and were four shots behind.
Masters champion Adam Scott, who can get within range of No. 1 in the world depending on his two weeks in Hawaii, had a 70 and was seven shots behind. The Australian was in dire need to a low round to at least have chance going into Monday.
Zach Johnson is going after his second straight win.
The last one was unofficial, yet no less memorable. Johnson was four shots behind Tiger Woods in the World Challenge on the back nine and rallied to catch him, holed out from the drop zone on the 18th hole to force a playoff and then won on the first extra hole.
Except for his Masters win in 2007, it might be the most famous of his 11 victories worldwide.
“When you’re talking about a guy that’s done what he’s done and raised the bar, any time you beat him – especially if you’re playing with him and come back from four shots with eight holes to go, it’s going to happen. So I can deal with that.”
Zach Johnson is starting his 11th year on the PGA Tour. He has won a major (Woods tied for second), played on three Ryder Cup teams and knows his limitation. He said while in awe of what Woods can do, he is past the stage of intimidation.
And the same goes for Dustin Johnson.
“I’ve played with him a number of times, too,” Zach Johnson said. “I like watching him hit driver. He’s not a whole lot different than a lot of the other guys I play with because they all hit it a lot further than me it seems like. … I don’t know. Dustin does not intimidate me.”