By Ward Clayton, PGATOUR.COM Contributor
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – As Zach Johnson completed a 4-under 68 on Sunday, he was still in the hunt for THE PLAYERS Championship title at 11 under. He patiently waited for an NBC interview and other quick media responsibilities near the clubhouse before telling those around him he needed to get to the 18th hole. Even while holding out hope for a possible playoff, he had a sense the deal was done.
“My boy Kooch (Matt Kuchar) is tough,” Johnson said. “This golf course suits his game much like it suits mine … I’ve got to go see my boy Kooch finish.”
Johnson was in a four-way tie for second with Martin Laird, Rickie Fowler and Ben Curtis, two strokes behind Kuchar. Johnson rushed to the green, where Jonathan Byrd was also in place to see their friend hit his approach and two-putt the 18th green for par to finish his winning round. All three are St. Simons Island, Ga., residents, along with a slew of other PGA TOUR and Nationwide Tour players.
The Johnsons and Kuchars are close friends at St. Simons Island, less than two hours north of TPC Sawgrass. Johnson, a 36-year-old Iowa native, moved from Orlando, Fla., to St. Simons in early 2009 for a quieter lifestyle for a family that includes two children and a third on the way. He also wanted to be closer to his coaches and the first-class practice facility at the Sea Island Club, home of The McGladrey Classic, and another top track, Frederica Golf Club.
The Kuchars moved from Atlanta to St. Simons in October 2010 for much the same reason as Johnson and because it is the hometown of Matt’s wife, Sybi. Johnson said that longtime St. Simons resident Davis Love III, the 2012 Ryder Cup captain, is considered “Uncle Davis” by the players who reside there. Johnson’s only 2011 win came beside Kuchar when they won a two-player team event, the CVS Caremark Charity Classic in Rhode Island (not an official win on the TOUR).
“We play a lot of golf, we do a lot of things with our kids together -- beach, pool, that sort of stuff,” Johnson said. “We get along with the Kuchars so, so great.”
Johnson started the final round of THE PLAYERS at 7 under, five behind third-round leader Kevin Na and four behind Kuchar. He eagled the par-5 second hole to jumpstart his round and reached 11 under with a birdie on the par-5 16th. A long two-putt par on the par-3 17th and a 28-foot par putt on the final hole after a drive in the right trees gave Johnson some hope.
“The last two months my putting has been sketchy,” said Johnson, who was second in THE PLAYERS field in Greens in Regulation. “But it’s felt much better the last week or so.”