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December 8, 2013

Zach Johnson


DOUG MILNE:  We'd like to welcome the 2013 Northwestern Mutual World Challenge champion, Zach Johnson.  Zach, congratulations on quite the dramatic finish, and ultimately the victory.  Congratulations, and well done, and with that I'll just turn it over to you for some comments.
ZACH JOHNSON:  Thank you.  I feel very honored to be the champion.  This is one of those things on the schedule that's highlighted.  If you can get into it, it's as good a tournament as I've ever played in.  I'm not just saying that.  Has everything to do with how they do it.  Northwestern Mutual, Greg and his staff at the Tiger Woods Foundation, Tiger, certainly Sherwood and the members here.  It's as good as it gets.  And it's great to play an event like this in the so‑called silly season; right?  I don't know if it's much of a silly season anymore.  But it's set up just like an old TOUR event, so it gets me ready for January.
Yeah, today was, I don't know, I mean I guess it was pretty boring early.  It was a bit too much drama at the end there.  But you know, I feel very fortunate and somewhat lucky to be sitting here as a champion.
DOUG MILNE:  All right.  We'll open it up and take a few questions.

Q.  What did you think walking back to the drop area had to happen for you to be sitting here today?
ZACH JOHNSON:  Well, I was upset.  You know, I mean I had I don't want to say an awkward yardage, but I had‑‑ I was in between clubs.  And certainly saw his shot.  You know, very hard shot.  End up in the bunker down there.  I assumed it was in the bunker and then when I walked up there it was.  It looked to me like it was going to be a very, very difficult 4 for him.  So once my ball was in the hazard, my whole process was just, I mean I'm trying to get somewhat around the hole and make a 5.  You know, it wasn't exactly a full‑wedge shot, but it was one that I could be aggressive with.  And 58 yards, trying to hit it about 52, 53, and we saw what it did.
Shouldn't have been in that position, but I'll learn from it.  I didn't complete my back swing on my second shot, and as a result, miss‑hit it and everything.  It was just bad.  Just bad.  (Laughs).  I mean that was the worst shot I hit all day.  Wasn't even close to being‑‑ there was no question.  It was probably the worst I hit all week.

Q.  Keep going.
ZACH JOHNSON:  Worst shot I've hit in a long time.

Q.  Four down to Tiger Woods with eight holes is a pretty daunting prospect.  At that point did you have to change your mindset and play more aggressively?  Did anything change in your game?
ZACH JOHNSON:  No, not really.  I was very, very, very frustrated with No. 10.  I mean I had a good number on my second shot and I made a horrid bogey.  I missed a three‑ or four‑footer, whatever it was.
At that point I was just trying to regather, kind of get back into my process, and there was no change.  I mean I was maybe a little bit aggressive on 13, but actually ended up in a good position.  You know, I made some putts.  I made a good one on 11, bounced back from the bogey, really good one on 12.  14 I made a good one, and then I hit some close shots coming in the stretch.
I put myself into good numbers, which was nice, you know, where I could be aggressive.  And specifically on like 16, you know, going for 11, that kind of thing.
I didn't think I was ever out of it, but I was just trying to plug along and make a few putts, and fortunately I did that.

Q.  Zach, you seemed really relaxed and loose today.  Did that help going head to head with Tiger coming down the stretch?
ZACH JOHNSON:  Yeah.  I mean you know, everybody talks about going head to head with him.  I mean you want to play with him and you want to be with him coming down the stretch on a Sunday.  I mean that's just what you want as a competitor.  That's what I want as a competitor.  I mean I want to play against the best.  He's the best I've ever played with.  And I want to put myself in that position.  I've been in it, I don't know how many times, twice here and a handful of times on TOUR.
I like playing with him.  He's a friend.  He seems to bring out the worst and the best in you, you know.  But I love that.  I'm going to learn from it, and I learn from him, once again because he's the best player that's ever played in my opinion.
You know, it's nothing more than that.  I mean I'm just trying to compete.  I feel great out there.  Like you said, if I win, I win.  If I lose, I lose.  That's kind of simple, but that's kind of the way I approached today.  I just like to compete and being in those situations where you get into holes have you to execute, you have to hit a shot.  And that's just fun, even if you shank it.

Q.  When he hits his second shot into the bunker again in the playoff, does that change your mindset at all with your shot?  I mean did you get a little less aggressive maybe with it?
ZACH JOHNSON:  You mean in regulation?

Q.  No.  In the playoff.  When he puts it in the bunker.
ZACH JOHNSON:  Oh, yeah.  I was five yards closer, I think the second time around, yes, five yards, because I hit a 9‑iron instead of an 8‑iron.  So I mean I hit the shot I was trying to hit in regulation.  You know, it didn't cut much, which is fine, but I was trying to just stay left of the hole, and you know, nothing more than that.  I'm not going to go at the pin.  If I do, it would be on accident.  You know, but there was no mental change.  Even if he would have stuffed it, I'm still trying to go left of the hole and if it cuts, it cuts, that kind of thing.

Q.  Tiger talked about missing a lot of putts, and he didn't make many today.  Early in the round when you weren't able to capitalize on that, was there any frustration on your part thinking if I can make a couple here I can maybe put a little more pressure on him?
ZACH JOHNSON:  No.  I didn't give myself great opportunities.  I had a look on 1, just trying to make a par on 2.  You know, really good save on 4, good putt on 5.  It wasn't like I was hitting eight‑footers for birdie.  I mean I had, you know, a poor putt on 9 and maybe even 7.  But no.  No.  I was just still playing.  I mean I didn't have‑‑ I wasn't knocking down pins or sticking it until the Back 9.  So I wasn't frustrated at all.
I mean as a matter of fact, I thought I was‑‑ 1‑under through nine was probably about as good as it should have been, frankly.

Q.  We had the final World Challenge here at Sherwood.  There was a record crowd today.  Tiger was right there on the cusp of victory, and then the best putter of probably this generation misses one.  Has there ever been a more awkward win?
ZACH JOHNSON:  Awkward?  For me?

Q.  On your end, yeah.

Q.  Do you need a police escort out or is it okay?
ZACH JOHNSON:  Let's not get any ideas floating out there, Doug.  I mean yeah, it's not the way you want it to end.  I mean you want to end the tournament with someone making a putt.
I say that, but I've been in the situation and missed putts, too.  So you gotta take the good with the bad and somehow they even out.  But you don't want to see it like that, especially when you hit a really good sand shot.
I had a strange feeling about that sand shot.  I mean I really did, considering the previous, in‑regulation shot.  And he hit a great shot.  It didn't have as much spin as his first one did.
But you know, he played great.  I mean you said it.  I don't think‑‑ he didn't make as many putts as I did.  That's all it really was.  Today.

Q.  I mean this is a Tiger who's never had to play the way you do, or Furyk, or Justin Leonard.  How much pride do you take out of a career that this far, 11 wins, I think, a major, the Ryder Cup teams, you've cracked the Top 10 in the world for the first time.  How much pride do you get out of that, in this era?
ZACH JOHNSON:  Yeah.  I mean I'm proud of that.  I mean, you know, I feel extremely blessed to have‑‑ to play this game in this era, to play against Tiger, to play against these guys.  I feel like I am a product of the guys that have helped me.  And that's really‑‑ I know I've got something inside of me that drives me.  I love the competition.  I love being in difficult situations and having to execute and that sort of thing.  I like when you get somewhat in contention, I like getting after it.  I've always liked that.  Doesn't matter what sport it is.
But I say all of that, and I don't feel like‑‑ a lot of these guys, like the guy today, I may not be as talented in some regards, but I know what my talent is, and I know my limitations and I feel like I know my game.  So if it's good enough that week, that day, then great.  If it's not, I'll just keep working.
And there's room for improvement, certainly on a left‑to‑right downhill lie with an 8‑iron in your hand.  I can improve on that.  But I'm going to enjoy that work and I'm going to try to keep getting better.

Q.  Zach, sort of along the same lines, you've called Tiger the greatest player ever.  You said you want to get in these situations with him.  Is there more of a sense of pride or accomplishment beating Tiger in this way as opposed to beating somebody else?
ZACH JOHNSON:  Yeah.  Absolutely.  I went head to head against the best.  At one time there was a couple of guys that were lurking.  I mean they were up there ‑‑ I didn't really stare at the board too much, but seemed like they were trying to make a push.
But absolutely.  I mean as I said on the putting green, there's a reason why young guys‑‑ he's their idol.  He's their Jack Nicklaus.  He's the guy that's paved the way.  He's the one that keeps pushing the ceiling higher and higher and he's the one that keeps raising the bar.  If he stays healthy‑‑ hopefully he does‑‑ there's no telling what he can do.
The guy never ceases to amaze me.  What we witnessed early 2000 through, what, 2007 or something like that was ridiculous.  And who's to say he can't do it again.
So yeah, I'll take pride in the fact that I played against the best, and I got one.  I means he's gotten a lot more than I have, so hopefully I'm in that position again and I think I'll learn from today.

Q.  You got Team Zach together right before this week and you guys were all out here.  Was this part of the plan to get together this week and figure everything out and win?
ZACH JOHNSON:  Yes.  The latter part?  Yes.
No.  Usually the plan is to try to meet in October or early part of November and try to get things situated, but it just didn't work out because of schedule.  We were all down in Carlsbad area and met and all my coaches.  We put a good‑‑ rehashed the year, tried to strategize for next year.  And coming into this week, we were just trying to get ready for next year.  I mean I've got new irons in the bag that I'm still getting used to.  Pretty evident.
But you know, a new 5‑wood in the bag.  That was that Titleist 2 on Monday.  Trying to get my bag situated so that when I hit '14 I'm ready to go.  Playing well here is just an added bonus.  I mean it really, really is.
Last year I think I finished second here two years ago, right?  Last year I think I finished last.  Top 20, but I finished 18.  (Laughs).  So you know, I'm just trying to get the proper clubs in my bag, proper ball and hopefully I can get some momentum for next year.  That's really all it was.

Q.  After you holed out on 18 and Tiger got his par to put it into a playoff and you guys shook hands, what did he say to you?
ZACH JOHNSON:  I mean what you'd expect.  He said, "great playing."  We both said that.  Right?  He said, "what's wrong with the middle of the green?"  You know, which is exactly what you should say.
But I mean he was very gracious, as he usually is.

Q.  Jason Dufner tried to petition Tiger to get all 36 holes each day so you'd go to the SEC Championship game.  Were you trying to petition him to get the tournament back here one more year?
ZACH JOHNSON:  That would be nice.  That would be nice.  I mean I love this place.  I love this golf course.  I've got two seconds and now a win.  So I love Sherwood.  But in saying that, you know, the point and the reason why we're here is because those are Earl Woods scholars and that scholarship fund, so maybe to travel a little bit would be good, just to get to the East Coast and showcase what this foundation is all about and certainly what Greg and Tiger and everybody is doing.
I think it's a great thing.  I've played Isleworth.  To my knowledge that's where we're going next year.  It'll be a phenomenal test.  This is one of those tournaments that this time of year it doesn't matter where we play as long as it's further south.  But it's just fun.  It's fun playing with your buddies.

Q.  And you'll miss what most about this place?
ZACH JOHNSON:  Well, I like this part of California.  I'll miss that.  I'll certainly miss this golf course.  I like it because there's a lot of risk‑reward.  There's a lot of strategy involved in where you hit it and how you hit it.  I don't feel like it favors the longest guy necessarily, so I like that.  And I've got some friends out here.
All that being said, I'm going to be three hours away from home by car instead of five hours by plane.  So hopefully I'll get the invite next year.

Q.  The hole‑out on 18 is probably going to be a big Youtube viral type thing.  Any idea ‑‑ I know it's a little soon ‑‑ but where that shot is going to rank in your career highlights?
ZACH JOHNSON:  It's probably No. 1 recovery shot.  Yeah, it's going to be up there.  I mean, you know, I don't know where it will rank.  I can think of a number of shots that I had to execute and I came through.
I would say the Presidents Cup one this year was a big one.  15.  I think we were three up with four to go and I made it from the fairway to win the match.  I mean that kind of stuff.  That was big.  Plus I got an extra two‑and‑a‑half hours of sleep as a result of that shot.  And that's no embellishment.  If we'd have had to go to the 16th hole, we wouldn't have finished.
And obviously some shots I can remember in tournaments I've won, there's been a handful here and there.  Ryder Cups, there's been a handful, just executing shots down the stretch.
But you know, hitting that shot there, if I'd have hit it to a foot, it would have been a great shot.  I'm trying to make a 5 and hopefully just get in with a 5.  That's what you're trying to do.  It looked like I teased the hole on 16, and 17.

Q.  You said the one on 16 looked even better.
ZACH JOHNSON:  I thought it was going in, too, from my vantage point.  17 looked like it had to be at least within a foot.  So whatever.  Maybe I was due.  I don't know.  60‑yard shot.
DOUG MILNE:  All right.  Congratulations.
ZACH JOHNSON:  Thank you.

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