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April 10, 2008

Zach Johnson


CLAUDE NIELSEN: Ladies and gentlemen, it's certainly a pleasure to welcome Zach Johnson back, our 2007 Masters Champion after his strong opening round of 2-under. Zach, you want to give a few comments about the round and the highlights, and then maybe we'll take questions?
ZACH JOHNSON: Sure. Yeah, I think first and foremost, I might have said it earlier, I couldn't wait for Thursday.
Fortunately my week was very, very scheduled. We did a good job of getting everything in order, and so Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday was very smooth but Thursday I was ready for, and got off to a good start. Making a 15-footer on the first hole for birdie just gives you good momentum. Gives you confidence that you're doing the right thing.
From there, I hit a poor drive on 5. Actually hit a really good second shot that just didn't get up the hill on the green there, and, I don't know how far that was, probably about 40 feet, but it broke about three or four different ways. That one was lucky. But I'll take it.
Ninth hole, I made bogey. I hit a pretty average drive and I was in-between clubs, very difficult lie. I put myself in a position that I felt like I eliminate the big, big number, but don't give myself a chance at par. It was tough. I hit a pretty average third shot and hit a good putt for par but it just lipped out.
10 I almost made birdie.
11 was big. I hit a poor drive, pitched out and hit a 9-iron to eight feet and made that for par. That was kind of a round saver.
Obviously 12 I hit it to a foot; that didn't hurt.
13, I put myself in a good position for a good number as far as bump-and-running it up that hill. Didn't quite get it up as high as I wanted and left it below the hole and made another 15-footer for birdie.
17, I was in-between clubs. And I went with the shorter club and still hit it long. I guess that's what happens when you pull it. You know, whatever, I made a bogey there. That's a tough hole.
18, just hanging on the edge.

Q. How much of a sense of relief was there when you actually were able to tee a ball up and hit it there on the first hole?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, I mean, relief might be a little strong, but just, you know, I was just anxious. I was anxious. I mean, I was ready to go. I was ready probably last week.
It's one of those things where I just couldn't wait to get started. I mean, I wanted to put last year behind me and start playing again. I don't get first-tee jitters on TOUR much. I can't remember the last time I did, but I had them here on 1, I had them here on 2. But it's good to know I still have some feelings, and good ones at that. So, yeah, I was ready to go.

Q. Can you talk about the course conditions? It seems like in the last hour or so, there have not been a whole lot of birdies out there. Why was it playing as tough as it was, and is it starting to play easier?
ZACH JOHNSON: I don't know if it's necessarily playing easier. It's playing pretty long I think. For Augusta National, it's playing pretty long.
You know, it's all wind-based. It's starting to dry out a little bit. We got some mud on our balls at times. Luke had a great tee shot on 10 and half his ball is coated in mud. You can hit good shots and make a bogey pretty easily. I think early on, especially.
You know, but the pin placements I think today were very good, very difficult. There were some -- I can think of a number of pin placements that were borderline Sunday pins, and ones you really had to pay attention on your approach shots.

Q. I know you've had putter problems and one I think Top-10 and you come in here and you're leading the Masters. Are you surprised, or should we not be surprised?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, you know, it's hard to say. I think as far as what I've done to this point, I'm not disappointed at all. I haven't missed a cut first and foremost. You guys know the depth of our fields, the depth of our tour is pretty special. I mean, it's pretty good.
So I've put myself in positions at times to do some damage on the weekends and just didn't do it, but like you said, the reason behind that has been my putter. It just wasn't on like it was, certainly last year, especially at the end of the year.

Q. Are you missing short putts? Are you missing like 3-footers?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, there's a lot of -- yeah, my speed was bad and I was missing short putts. That's exactly right. That's not a good combination. (Laughter).
Yeah, it's been better as of late. For whatever reason, once I get back to the East Coast, my putter starts to pick up a little bit of steam. The West Coast, I've had some decent finishes, but nothing of any major, you know, circumstance.
A lot of people say the West Coast greens, poa annua and me don't really mesh, but I was fundamentally off, even more than confidence was certainly shot but my fundamentals were not where they needed to be. I remember in Tucson in The Match Play, I lost in the first round and I flew to the East Coast and met with my coach, Pat O'Brien and a few things were off and some things I needed to pay attention to and fortunately I'm not worrying about those things anymore.

Q. Those jitters you referred to, do you think that people expected more of you this year?
ZACH JOHNSON: No, I don't think so. The jitters were merely because I'm playing in the Masters at Augusta National on the first tee. That's basically what it boils down to. I really didn't -- no, I'm proud of myself in the respect that I put last year behind me.
And I said that, there are a lot of things I'm going to take from that and a lot of things I'm going to dwell on and certainly going to fall back into, but I think really the only thing I want to fall back into with last year is just how I executed when I needed to execute, and that's it. You know, like I said, last year is last year.
I had a decent number today, but it was just -- it's just Thursday.

Q. About today, how do you feel about this round?
ZACH JOHNSON: I feel good, yeah. You know, Thursday, you can't win it. I felt like I played today for today; in other words, not thinking about tomorrow, so I'm not thinking about last year. I played Thursday, April 10 for April 10. That kind of sounds pretty simple and, you know and elementary but maybe that's how my brain functions. It's just a good, solid round going into Friday.

Q. Can you take us through your club section on 12?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yes. I had just made a good putt on 11 for par, so I was certainly jazzed up about that.
It was a perfect number. I mean, it was I think 152 yards actual, but a little bit downhill, so it played about 150-ish, slightly into the wind, and you know, I hit -- my stock 8-iron goes 155 so I hit just kind of a low 8-iron and ended up about a foot and nearly flew in the hole.
Who knows where it would have gone if it hit the hole or the pin. So yeah, I was very pleased. It nearly flew in the hole and gave me some momentum going into the rest of the round.

Q. Can you talk just a little bit about the Champions Dinner and what it felt like, the first one, hosting and everything else?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, it was special. That's probably the biggest word, just extremely special.
Gosh, I remember sitting down and I'm like, wow, I'm sitting at the head of the table with, obviously, Chairman Payne to my left and Mr. Ben Crenshaw to my right and I'm at the center and I'm thinking, wow, I can be here as long as I want to be here. And everybody ate their food which was great. I think there was one individual who ordered something else and I don't even know who that was, so that's good.
Just being in that room with those guys, talk about pioneers of the game, guys I've certainly been following since I've been playing, and even the ones that are still competing. A lot of those guys you still aspire to play like.
So being in that fraternity was special.

Q. What was it that you served?
ZACH JOHNSON: I served some Midwest corn-fed beef, filet, ahi tuna if they elected to go elsewhere. I had a corn casserole, pudding, whatever you want to call it, souffle, I don't know what it was, but it was awesome. Some vegetables and then some salads and appetizers and that sort of thing.
So there was an assortment. Some Florida flair with some Midwest home cooking.

Q. Last year after the tournament and then again earlier this year, you talked a lot about the game planning that you did prior to coming here last year, the work you did, the strategy with the par 5s and wedges and things like that. Did you do a similar routine coming into this year, and what was it?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, yeah, it was very similar. I played here, you know, my last round was the Sunday, which I won, and I played 18 on Monday this week. I knew there wasn't that many substantial changes to the course and I just didn't have time to get up here.
So, yeah, my strategy in the practice rounds was good. I had a game plan going into the practice round, so it could be efficient and effective rather than thinking about what to do before I got to the hole or before I got to the green. I had a purpose, a practice purpose, and you know, I do have a game plan, but course is good in the respect that, you know, based on where I hit it, I know what I need to do.
I mean, there's only going to be so many options I can have because I can't overpower it.

Q. Is the game plan this year pretty much the same as last year, the same idea with the par 5s?
ZACH JOHNSON: Potentially. To say I'm going to lay up on every one is not accurate, but yeah, it's definitely the same. I kind of know where I need to miss it if I miss it and I know where I need to hit it if I have the opportunity.
So my game plan is to make putts. (Smiling).

Q. Can you take us through what was going through your mind when you watched the putt roll on 5 from a long way away?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, I hit it solid. I had a good line on it. I practiced that putt, not only this year, but in years previous. You know, I thought I hit it perfect, and then I saw it rolling, and it was -- when it hit the hole, unfortunately it hit the center of the hole. We're talking 68 feet by. But I figured if I leave it left of the hole, if I do miss it, then I have an uphill putt for par. It was tough.
That was one of those putts where you're trying to 2-putt and fortunately I got lucky. I left some putts out there. I had some makeable uphill putts for birdie or par for that matter that I did not make, and that one kind of made up for it.

Q. Did you know Governor Culver would be here, and did that surprise you?
ZACH JOHNSON: I did not know he was going to be here and yes it did surprise me. Am I surprised? No, I'm not, and I saw that only because that's Iowa and what it's about.
To see his face, I was a little bit surprised, but looking back on it now, being from Iowa and knowing the people and knowing what it's all about, certainly meeting Governor Culver and his family, the support is second to none, and granted, that's where I'm from, so I'm a little biased.
The beauty of the Governor is that he's a fan. He's not only a fan, but he's an admirer of sports. Taking time out of his schedule to come here, that's a little shocking. That's a little surprising.
But the support that he's given me and certainly not just me, but all other athletes from that state is, you know, that's what it's all about, and he's certainly the model for that.

Q. The first three rounds last year, people were complaining there was not much in the way of noise. Was it noticeably different today and what was the loudest roar you heard, for your group or anywhere else?
ZACH JOHNSON: The loudest roar, had to be that hole-in-one on 16, that was pretty loud. I'm walking around 17 fairway, I heard a pretty substantial roar on 15, and sure enough, Tiger made eagle. So that was pretty loud, too.

Q. Did it seem loud the first three rounds last year or did it seem pretty quiet?
ZACH JOHNSON: I can't recall.

Q. What's been your first-round habit -- I looked up the last ten years but Masters defending champions have not played well the first round, I think the best anybody did was Vijay, a couple 70s and that's it. Have you been conservative or have you had good starts?
ZACH JOHNSON: I don't think there's any rhyme or reason to it. I just feel comfortable on it and I feel like the more I play it, the better off I am on the golf course. And my strategy, it's fairly simple. I take what the golf course gives me is what it boils down to. Certainly there are shots I have to pucker up and execute, and it's not easy, but just the course, I see it. I just see it, especially on the greens. I love it. I love the challenge.

Q. You said last year that your victory was conditions-based, weather, obviously was completely different last year as it was today, so can you explain, then, how on a completely different course, you're right back where you were?
ZACH JOHNSON: Well, I think last year, it was wind. It was the wind that was substantial, and this year, the course isn't that wet. It's not like it's -- it's not playing as long as I've seen it play, especially like in rounds I've played in February and March. It not playing nearly to that magnitude.
That's a good question. I mean, you know, Augusta National is about putting the golf ball, and putting yourself in position to make putts, and I've done that well. That's really what it boils down to.
I think, you know, if you get a long hitter that is hitting it solid and straight and putting it well, you know, shooting a 2-under round is probably going to be a little easier for them than it is for me. I think all of the media-types would say -- you've got to have a long -- it's beneficial to have a long game at Augusta National and I would agree with that.

Q. Playing Amen Corner at 2-under, was that a cornerstone of your round today?
ZACH JOHNSON: Oh, I didn't even think about that. Yeah, I think that is the cornerstone. I think not only just that, but I think it started in the beginning, getting off to a good start was big; not necessarily No. 5. I'm talking No. 1 in general and I gave myself an opportunity on 3 for birdie, as well; hit a bad putt.
Got off to a good start, had a good Amen Corner. I actually finished okay. I hit a bad shot on 17, but you know, I mean, my ball goes a quarter of an inch further on 18 and I make another birdie. So I ended on a good note. I think it's kind of bookend.

Q. How relieved are you right now to be done with the first round and get kind of into competition and be able to put some of the distractions aside and just focus on the golf for the next few days?
ZACH JOHNSON: Yeah, that's exactly it. That's what I've been saying all along. Like I said, Thursday could not come any faster for me. I was really excited to get here and anxious. I put the anxiety and excitement to the side and started, you know, to go about my job, go about my business. But yeah, I'm just excited to be competing. I took a week off, too, so I love competition, and certainly love competition at Augusta National.

Q. The Masters or any major tournament has a surprise winner, a lot of people wonder, is the guy that good, or did everything just come together for him in a particular week; do you feel like if you have another strong tournament here, any of those questions about is the guy that good, going to disappear?
ZACH JOHNSON: If there are those questions, maybe, yeah, I don't know. I don't know who is asking those questions. I think anybody that tees it up this week, for the most part, they are playing here for a reason. One, they have either won here or two, they can win here.
There's not a surprise guy on the leaderboard or a surprise guy in the field as far as I'm concerned.
CLAUDE NIELSEN: Thank you, Zach, play well.

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