US PGA: Zach Johnson knows friends will steal show

Fans look over the stunning second hole for the US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, Wisconsin, yesterday. Picture: Julio Corte/ AP Photo
Fans look over the stunning second hole for the US PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, Wisconsin, yesterday. Picture: Julio Corte/ AP Photo
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ZACH Johnson is looking for his second straight major victory at the PGA Championship, but the Open champion will have the least intriguing story line in his opening- round threesome when the tournament begins at Whistling Straits today.

He might not even be the biggest draw among players named Johnson.

Zach Johnston with the Claret Jug at St Andrews. Picture: Getty

Zach Johnston with the Claret Jug at St Andrews. Picture: Getty

Fans will flock around the first tee to watch Rory McIlroy, the world’s No 1, return from an ankle injury, while joining McIlroy and Johnson will be Jordan Spieth, who won the Masters and US Open. Spieth is about as big a name as there is these days in the game.

Yet, what Johnson is trying to accomplish this week is rare. Winning the final two majors of the year has been done six times since 1934, and four times in the last 15 years. McIlroy accomplished the feat last season.

“To me, it’s just a great opportunity, that’s all,” Johnson said. “I’m excited about Thursday and Friday. I get to play with two good friends.”

It’s a threesome comprising the winners of the last five majors. Yet, even Dustin Johnson, yet to win a major, is attracting more attention than Zach this week. The PGA Championship is at Whistling Straits for the first time since 2010 when Dustin Johnson drew a two-shot penalty on the final hole after grounding his 4-iron in the sand to the right of the fairway, not aware he was in a bunker. He had a one-shot lead at the time.

Johnson missed a seven-foot par putt to slip into a play-off until the penalty dropped him into fifth.

Zach Johnson was asked about that, too, yesterday. They had neighboring lockers. “I consoled Dustin the best I could. What do you say? He was upset, clearly, as he should be. But his attitude was actually pretty good,” he said.

The leader in driving distance, Dustin Johnson has had at least a share of the lead in four rounds at the majors this year, and his game makes him a contender at Whistling Straits, according to the player who won the US PGA in 2010, Martin Kaymer.

“It’s a little sad that every time we talk about the PGA Championship here it’s like that Dustin threw it away,” Kaymer said. “Everybody still thinks that he would have won the tournament outright.

“He would have been in the play-off and it would have been still Bubba, Dustin and me. And that’s the only thing that’s a little strange about the whole thing.

“Obviously, it was sad to see. You fight for something so hard and then things like this happen on the 72nd hole. You don’t wish that on anyone.

“It was very unfortunate for him, but, on the other hand, knowing what kind of player he is, he will be in that position again. If it would have happened to a player who will never be there again, then you feel very, very sorry. For Dustin, you know he’s going to be there again and he will win a major eventually.

“I think Dustin will have a good chance this week to win here. It would be quite a funny story if he would raise the trophy on Sunday.”

Johnson had blown a three-shot lead in the final round of the US Open a month earlier and is still seeking a first major title after three-putting the 72nd hole of this year’s US Open at Chambers Bay to finish a shot behind Spieth.

Whether Johnson breaks his major duck or not, the odds seem stacked in favour of an American clean sweep of golf’s biggest events for the first time since 1982, with Spieth winning the Masters and US Open and Zach Johnson victorious in the Open.

Rickie Fowler believes he can add his name to that roll of honour in the final major, with the 26-year-old looking to adopt the same approach as 18-times major winner Jack Nicklaus. Nicklaus felt half the players in each major were too scared to win, while others ruled themselves out by complaining about the tough conditions.

“I don’t know if I would say it’s harder, by any means. There are just fewer chances at playing in majors and winning,” said Fowler. “I looked at what Jack said in saying that they’re the easiest to win.

“I’m trying to go with that outlook and go out there and just focus on sticking to my gameplan and taking care of the business that I need to take care of out there. And, ultimately, putting myself in a position going into the weekend to be in contention.”

Europe’s Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke insists the current American dominance is not a cause for concern ahead of the 2016 contest at Hazeltine, but added: “If you ask me the same question at this time next year, then I may be more concerned.

“But it does not make our task any more daunting. It’s a very, very tough task that we have in front of us regardless. There’s a new breed of American players coming through, highlighted by Jordan Spieth. For us to be the away team on American soil, we’re under no illusions how hard it’s going to be.”