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August 21 2012

4:30 PM

Zach eager for date with Tiger, Rory

Interview: Zach Johnson

The two-time winner in 2012 got a surprise pairing for the FedExCup Playoffs opener.

By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- This week at The Barclays, as is the custom at all four events in the FedExCup Playoffs, the pairings for the first two rounds will be based on a player's point total.

So Zach Johnson finds himself in what is sure to be the most watched group at Bethpage State Park on Thursday and Friday -- playing with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, who rank Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in the FedExCup.

Johnson clocks in at fourth but he gets the marquee pairing because No. 3 Jason Dufner has decided to take a break after playing the last three weeks straight.

Johnson has played with both players before, although never in the same group. He's experienced the energy of the partisan crowds Woods and McIlroy attract. And the nine-time PGA TOUR champ understands the fascination.

"I guess if I wasn't playing with them and I was working out or in my hotel, I'd probably be watching them on TV, so now I've got a first-hand watch," Johnson said. "I know the crowd will be pushing them quite heavily, and it'll be fun."

At the same time, Johnson, a two-time winner in 2012, knows he'll need all the extra focus he can muster when he joins Woods and McIlroy on the first tee. He’ll need to play his own game, not marvel at theirs, to prosper at Bethpage Black.

"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," Johnson said with a smile. "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 knows his fairways-and-greens style of play doesn't garner as much attention as his two playing partners. But he hopes Zach Johnson fans will come out and support him -- and maybe by the weekend, he'll be able to hear them, too.

"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 more loud than mine," the former Masters champ said. "So 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 New England 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."

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