REUTERS - Zach Johnson plans to focus on his “boring” fairways-and-greens style of play when he tees off with golfing heavyweights Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy in Thursday’s opening round of the Barclays tournament in Farmingdale, New York.
Johnson has been paired with fellow American Woods and Northern Irishman McIlroy for the opening two rounds at Bethpage State Park, based on their respective points totals going into the first of the PGA Tour’s four FedExCup playoff events.
While Johnson has previously played with both players in competition, he has never done so in the same group and says he is excited about the opportunity on the challenging Bethpage Black course.
“I guess if I wasn’t playing with them and I was working out in my hotel, I’d probably be watching them on TV, so now I’ve got a first-hand watch,” a smiling Johnson, 36, told reporters on Tuesday.
“I know the crowd will be pushing them quite heavily, and it’ll be fun. I‘m going to relish the opportunity because ... they’re certainly two of the better players that are playing right now in the world.”
Former world number one Woods, a triple champion on the PGA Tour this year, and current number one McIlroy are the two biggest drawcards in the game and Johnson is wary of being distracted by their spectacular shot-making and crowd appeal.
“Two guys that you certainly can get caught up watching just because of the shots they can hit, shots they can hit that I can’t hit,” said Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion.
“I‘m just hoping my boring golf kind of gets in the way, and that’s really what it boils down to. I like boring golf. That’s kind of what butters my bread, so to speak.”
Johnson, a double winner on the 2012 PGA Tour, lies fourth in the FedExCup standings going into this week with Woods first and McIlroy, who clinched his second major title at this month’s PGA Championship, third.
American Jason Dufner occupies second place but he opted to miss this week’s event, thus handing Johnson a spot with Woods and McIlroy in the marquee grouping at Bethpage Black.
“Knowing what I’ve read and seen and experienced with Tiger and Rory, their fans are probably a bit more abundant and probably a little louder than mine,” grinned Johnson.
”I don’t know how many Zach Johnson fans will be out there, but I’ll be hopefully embracing them and hopefully hitting some quality shots. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. It’s fantastic for our sport.
“New York fans are sports fans ... and it’s always nice coming back here because they’re not afraid to speak loud, they’re not afraid to cheer, they’re not afraid to applaud a good shot and encourage you when you’re down.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue