Z. Johnson finds ideal match for his game at demanding Colonial

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Zach Johnson first saw Colonial nine years ago. The weather was windy, warm and dry that week. The greens were bentgrass, somewhat unusual for a golf course in the southwest.

A smile crept across Johnson's face. Those things appealed to him.

"I don't know if I ever labeled this (course) as the one that's going to be for me," Johnson said. "It just suited my eye from the very beginning."

Nine years later, the proof is in the results.

Johnson enters this week as the defending champ of the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. In his last four visits, he's won twice and finished in the top 10 the other two times. From the first round in 2009 through the third round of 2012, he posted a score in the 60s. In every round. That's 15 consecutive rounds if you're adding them up.

Since 2009, Johnson has made 77 birdies at Colonial. No player during that time has made more. Bo Van Pelt is the next closest at 68 birdies.

PGA TOUR pros, if they're fortunate, will find a course that seems to perfectly fit their game. Johnson and Colonial fall into that group. Johnson is one of the TOUR's premier shotmakers, and Colonial is a shotmaker's course. There's a reason it's nicknamed Hogan's Alley - Ben Hogan was a precision golfer, and Colonial demands that same quality.

The last of Hogan's record five victories here came in 1959. While the course has undergone a few adjustments, the type of player who thrives on it hasn't changed. As Corey Pavin, who is making his 30th start in this tournament -- and in the process, opting not to play in one of the Champions Tour's majors, the Senior PGA Championship -- said earlier this week, Colonial has "held up over time."

Johnson, like Pavin, is a throwback, a player who doesn't overpower a golf course but who must win with accuracy, putting and course management. Colonial allows him to do that.

"We always get the question, whether it's social media, at a gathering where you are speaking or whatever, 'What's your favorite golf course? Or what's your favorite tournament?' Well, this tournament is going to be in that breath for sure," Johnson said.

"It's the old cliche -- they don't make them like they used to. It's a shotmaker's course, therefore, Ben Hogan. It requires every shot in your bag, every club in your bag."

And it doesn't require you to be a monster off the tee. Short players can thrive at Colonial. And we're not talking short in terms of driving distance, but short in terms of physical stature.

Johnson is listed at 5-foot-11, 160 pounds. David Toms, the 2011 winner, is 5-10, 160. Rory Sabbatini, the 2007 winner, is 5-10, 165. Steve Flesch, the 2004 winner, is 5-11, 165. Sergio Garcia, the 2001 winner, is 5-10, 160.

Given that Hogan -- who stood 5-8 1/2 -- was given the nickname "Wee Ice Mon" during his lone trip to the British Open, it's fitting that Colonial continues to cater to players of similar height.

Certainly it's no surprise that Rickie Fowler -- 5-9, 150 pounds -- considers Colonial one of his favorite courses. In his first three starts, Fowler's position on the leaderboard has improved each year. He tied for fifth last year and has a career stroke average of 68.58 at Colonial.

You get the feeling he's destined to slip on one of Colonial's plaid jackets at some point during his career.

"it is a golf course where you don't exactly have to be a bomber," Fowler said. "I only hit maybe four or five drivers on the golf course. ... I will take 260 on every hole right down in the middle of the fairway and play anyone out here."

Finding the fairway is a key component to succeeding at Colonial. Johnson is hoping he can start hitting more than he has so far in 2013.

A year ago, he ranked 14th on the PGA TOUR in driving accuracy. He comes into this year ranked 36th. He hasn't ranked that low since he finished 47th at the end of the 2005 season.

If he wants to be just the second person to successfully defend a title at Colonial -- Hogan did it twice -- he'll need to get dialed in off the tees.

"If I'm going to play well out here consistently," Johnson said, "I've got to get the ball in the fairway. ... If (the driver) is not accurate, I'm going to have issues."

He's not alone this week. Most players in the field feel the same way. Colonial demands precise shots. Ben Hogan wouldn't have wanted it any other way.