Zach is the Johnson name of note this time, not Dustin

Zach Johnson celebrates after a birdie on the 18th. 'Picture: Ian Rutherford
Zach Johnson celebrates after a birdie on the 18th. 'Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Zach Johnson knows that when people see his surname on the leaderboard the easy assumption is that it is his compatriot Dustin who is spearheading the charge.

Last month, the other Johnson regained his status as world No 1 and, having cast an imposing shadow over the sport since winning the 2016 US Open title, his presence is commonplace at the business end of tournaments.

“I mean, I’ve been called ‘Dustin’ many times. I doubt he’s been called ‘Zach’ that many times,” he admitted with a smile and a healthy serving of self-deprecation. “It goes back to what you said, maybe some people do assume, when they see the name up there, that it’s Dustin. But how many tournaments has he won?”

The answer is 18 compared to Zach’s tally of 12, which remains pretty handy. “I certainly am not the No 1 player in the world that ends in ‘Johnson’, though. I mean, Dustin and what he’s done over the last decade, but specifically the last few years, is very remarkable. He seems to have played well regardless of geographics, regardless of time of year. So you get what you deserve there.”

But only one of the golfing namesakes is a multiple major winner and only Zach has his moniker engraved on the iconic Claret Jug, having come through the field to triumph at St Andrews in 2015. He is also the only one of the pair who will be sticking around to contest the final two rounds of this year’s championship.

“But all that being said, I don’t know if I’m under the radar or overlooked but the comparison of Johnson & Johnson is probably not fair to me or him, truthfully. I mean, he’s won one major, but the odds are in his favour for another one at some point.”

Few would be daft enough to rule out the prospect of Zach making an important addition to his major resume this weekend, though.

Topping the leaderboard, alongside housemate Kevin Kisner, he made a mockery of the notion that the morning rain and changing conditions would hamper the early starters.

Despite a bogey on the opening hole, he carded a 4-under round of 67 to build on his opening-day 69 and set the standard everyone else had to try to match.

“I thought the conditions were different, but more manageable in the sense that you could predict where your ball would end up off of the tee easier because of the rain. It was maybe a little more predictable on your approach shots and I putted a little bit better today.”

It is on the links courses of the Open that the 42-year-old comes into his own. Boasting 11 consecutive cuts and seven top-25 finishes at the only British major, the Iowa golfer relishes the challenge it sets competitors.

“I think my game lends itself to this championship because my style can play here,” he said. “With the exception of maybe one hole today, it was very apparent what club I needed to hit off the tee box. Yesterday it was much more trying. Is it an 8 iron off the tee box? Is it a 5 iron? Is it a hybrid? Is it a driver? I mean, that’s also the beauty of this championship, especially at this venue, because it’s all of it. All of it. You can hit any of those clubs. You’ve just got to hit it straight.”

It is a far cry from his first three tournaments. They all ate him up and spat him out at the halfway stage. But they taught him valuable lessons and, playing hard to get, the Open quickly enchanted him.

“The reverence I have for this championship and specifically that trophy, that Claret Jug, I’m not suggesting that someone else doesn’t have a higher reverence for it, but I’d argue with them [about that]. I just greatly appreciate it. I greatly appreciate how the game was formed over here, how this championship came into fruition back in 1860. Everything about it I’ve embraced and I love.

“I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘man, I just love playing in the wind and rain’ because I don’t, but I can do it, you know. I may not play well, but I’m going to go out and fight.”

It is that attitude, in this major, that has allowed him to make a name for himself.