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July 18 2013

2:43 PM

Johnson's putter paves way to 66

Zach Johnson opened with a 66 Thursday at Muirfield. (Lewis/Getty Images)

By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM

GULLANE, Scotland -- So what if he was jet-lagged after that overnight charter flight from Illinois Sunday night?

Zach Johnson got in nine holes at Muirfield on Monday and a full 18 on Tuesday before he hit the wall and slept for nearly 12 hours. Another nine on Wednesday and he was ready for The Open Championship -- and it showed in the 66 he shot that earned him the first-round lead.

Johnson went out in a sizzling 31 on the way to posting the round of 5 under that gave him a one-stroke lead over Rafael Cabrera-Bello and Mark O'Meara. His round included an eagle and four birdies, and Johnson, who pronounced himself "very pleased," dropped just one shot to par.

The veteran did a little bit of everything well on a bright, sunny day. He hit nine fairways and 13 greens in regulation, and his putter was particularly steady as he used just 1.44 strokes per hole.

"Anytime you shoot under par in an Open or a major, for that matter, you have to be putting at least somewhat decent, and I putted great," Johnson said. "I made some nice birdie putts and obviously that one for eagle. But I struck some really nice solid par putts. That's what you've got to do to stay in it. All in at all, very solid, just it's just one round."

Johnson has embraced the Open experience. Unlike in the United States, where players retire to their own hotel rooms and suites, he's staying in a house with his good friend Stewart Cink, their caddies and their trainer. Cink was on the leaderboard early, too, and ended up shooting a round of 1 under.

"Just so happens (Stewart's) had that Claret Jug, but we're having fun," Johnson said. "We've got some reservations here and there and just enjoying each others' company; nothing more than that. We're all good friends. I'm sure we'll start watching coverage on the BBC as the week goes on, and I'm certainly going to try to watch as much as I can, and see how the ball is reacting on certain holes, this afternoon and tomorrow morning."

Asked how he had rebounded from the disappointment so quickly, Johnson said he couldn't have done it any other way.

"I think this game demands resilience," Johnson said. "It demands resilience on the golf course, each round, each hole, and day to day. But it also demands it week to week. And that just comes with experience. That certainly comes with embracing what's happened and then also throwing it behind you and plodding along to the future. ... 

"If anything from last week, what I've embraced is the fact that I'm playing great and I can put that into play, and I'm certainly somewhat confident in what I'm doing, confident in my routines. I'm confident in my walk out there. I'm confident in my lines.... If anything, there's certainly more positives last week than negatives."

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