By Fred Albers, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- I talked with Zach Johnson just before the start of THE PLAYERS Championship. He was struggling through the first half of the PGA TOUR season, having played in 11 tournaments, missing a trio of cuts and not posting a single top-20 finish in a full-field event.
Trying to be diplomatic, I quizzically stated his year has been a bit “unusual.”
Johnson, paused for a moment and said, “if by unusual you mean terrible, that’s about right.”
Johnson did not go into a bunch of details but said he had not paid attention to fundamentals while practicing and that was going to change.
Johnson finished T19 that week and 14 days later nearly won the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. Two months later, he lost in a playoff at the John Deere Classic.
I’d say Johnson hit all the fundamentals this week at the BMW Championship. He made one bogey in the final 36 holes while making 20 birdies on the week. Johnson was T3 hitting greens in regulation and T6 in hitting fairways.
However, Johnson won this tournament with his putting. He was second for the week in strokes gained-putting averaging, 1.859 putts per green.
When asked if this week validated his lengthy practice sessions, Johnson said he had seen the improvement before this week and was confident it was just a matter of time before the results followed.
Patience and fundamentals. That’s a winning combination.
Chipping: A tournament is not always determined by birdies or bogeys in the final stretch of holes. For Nick Watney, his moment came much earlier. He birdied the first three holes of the final round and was 4 under when arriving at the par-5, eighth. Watney’s second shot was just right of the green and 48 feet from the cup. He flubbed the eagle chip, hit his birdie chip 23 inches from the cup and then missed the putt, making bogey. Watney said the chip was just a bad shot and rattled him to the point where lost focus on the short putt. To his credit, that was his only bogey of the final round as Watney shot 4 under in the last nine holes to finish second. Telling me a lack of focus caused the short miss -- and perhaps a tournament title -- was a very honest assessment that not many players would answer so directly.
Three putts: Tiger Woods did not have to search hard for an answer to his inconsistent play this week. He simply never got a feel for the break on the greens. Woods had a very untidy total of five three-putts. He had a total of 25 three-putts the entire year, coming into the BMW Championship. Woods missed an uncharacteristic half dozen putts measuring 5 feet of less. For the season, he makes putts of that length 92 percent of the time. I would advise Tiger to toss out this week as an outlier, attribute the putting inconsistencies to a new course and arrive at the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola confident in his abilities.
Closer: It is difficult for me to even write this, but Jim Furyk has trouble closing out tournaments. He struggled last year at the U.S. Open, at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, at the Ryder Cup and at The McGladrey Classic. Furyk did not close out this year’s PGA Championship but I attribute that to Jason Dufner’s superb play. The fifth hole seemed to be a turning point. He had an 8-foot putt for birdie while his fellow competitor, Steve Stricker, had a 12-footer for par. Stricker made; Furyk missed and his stroke seemed tentative for the remainder of the round. I know it’s not a consolation but 20 years from now, I may not remember who won the 2013 BMW Championship, but I will recall Furyk shooting 59 on a windy Friday. I hope he can look at that golf ball in years to come and remember the glory of that second round, rather than the disappointment of Monday.
Golf Course: It’s a shame Conway Farms received so much rain on Sunday. There were some mud balls in the final round, but the area inside the ropes was fine. Any area outside the ropes, where the gallery had trampled, was a nasty odoriferous soup of brown goo. A brisk wind did wonders to help dry the course as the round progressed but I imagine TOUR officials would have implemented “preferred lies” before Sunday’s round began if given a mulligan. The grounds themselves seemed a little tight with traffic congestion but that might be more of a tribute to the huge galleries and the many corporate tents that were sold. It’s hard to criticize a course’s traffic flow just because Chicago golf fans supported the BMW Championship with such enthusiasm.
Karma: Zach Johnson made the decision to skip The Barclays in order to attend his brother’s wedding. He paid a visit to Conway Farms that week, before the wedding, and put in some practice time. That extra practice gave Johnson confidence and a little local knowledge coming into the week. The golf gods always smile on those who have their priorities in order.
Fred Albers is a course reporter for SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio. For more information on SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio, click here