Masters Champ Struggles at John Deere

Friday, July 13th 2007, 7:35 am
By: News On 6

SILVIS, Ill. (AP) _ A woman had a request for Zach Johnson as he signed autographs following his round. ``Remember us as you go to the British Open,'' she said. Before he heads overseas, Johnson has some business to tend to near home. He'll try to jump into contention in the John Deere Classic after falling six strokes off the first-round lead Thursday with a 1-under 70. Maybe he'll use some of the magic that carried him to that surprising Masters victory a few months ago.

``There's a responsibility that goes along with what's happened,'' Johnson said.

For now, he just wants to put on a good show for his home crowd, and this wasn't the start he had in mind.

While Johnson struggled, Neal Lancaster shot a 7-under 64 to grab a one-stroke lead over Duffy Waldorf, Paul Stankowski, Kenny Perry, Scott Gutschewski and Jason Dufner.

Ranked 15th in the world and the only top-45 player in the tournament, Johnson was unable to mount a run because of inconsistent putting. That explains why he called the round ``very mediocre.''

Given his history in the event, maybe it was no surprise Johnson had some difficulties. Although he grew up just over an hour away in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and considers this his home event, he has never finished higher than 20th.

``I missed some very short putts,'' Johnson said. ``I actually had some unfortunate breaks, too. I hit it in three divots _ two on the front and one on the back. That really just kind of put me in a position where I had to try to get on the green.''

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Lancaster was a surprise leader.

His lone PGA Tour victory was at the 1994 Byron Nelson Classic, and he said he hasn't played well for six years. His highest finish in three tour events this year is a tie for 24th in May in the AT&T Classic, and he hit so poorly on the range Wednesday that he stopped. He didn't bother going to the putting green all week because that part of his game deserted him years ago.

He fared well Thursday, finishing with eight birdies and one bogey _ not bad for a guy with a workout regimen John Daly might have devised.

``Smoke two packs a day and have a lot of Mountain Dew,'' Lancaster said.

Waldorf was tied for the lead after bogeying the 17th hole, but his approach on 18 settled in a bunker to the right of the green. And a 12-foot putt for par stopped a foot from the cup, giving him a bogey.

``Nothing was great, but I did something great with everything,'' Waldorf said. ``I drove the ball well most of the time, and I made a lot of good putts, and I missed some putts. So all in all, I did everything well.''

That put him in the middle of the drama, but Johnson took center stage.

A year ago, the focus was on Michelle Wie until she succumbed to heat exhaustion on the second day, and she would have been the center of attention again had she not withdrawn due to wrist injuries last month.

With Wie out, it was on Johnson.

A gallery of about 75 trailed him, cheering just about every shot _ good or bad. A fan screamed, ``Go get 'em Mr. Johnson!'' as he walked to the ninth hole, and another yelled, ``Welcome home, Zach!'' as he approached the green.

Johnson then knocked a 17-foot birdie putt wide before tapping it in for par, a fitting conclusion to his round.

``That's the beauty of this area,'' he said. ``You know, especially Iowa. I could still be on the Nationwide Tour and getting sponsors exemptions, and I'd still get a warm response. That's the beauty of the pride here.''