PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Michael Johnson of Birmingham, Ala., used eight birdies during his round to overcome a streaky back nine and fire a 4-under-par 68. Johnson, who was added to the field Wednesday night after a last-minute withdrawal, holds a one-shot lead over Thomas Stewart of St. Augustine, Fla., entering Saturday’s second round.
In cooperation with the PGA Tour, the American Junior Golf Association has brought 78 players, ages 12-18, from 20 states and 13 foreign countries to The Players Stadium Course for a special junior golf experience. The Junior Players Championship is mirrored after The Players, and the 7,215-yard, par-72 layout matches the set-up used at the PGA TOUR event. For the first time in The Junior Players Championship history, the 2010 champion will be given a sponsor’s exemption to the Nationwide Tour’s Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open Presented by Planters, which will be played Oct. 18-24 at TPC Sawgrass – Dye’s Valley Course.
Johnson, who started the day on the back nine, had a stretch of 10 holes in which he did not mark a par on his scorecard. Throughout those holes, Johnson carded seven birdies, two bogeys and one double bogey, which came on No. 18 – statistically the hardest hole on the course. After No. 18, Johnson was able to calm down and he birdied the next three holes.
“My caddie told me after I finished nine, ‘if you were on the range at the beginning of the day and thought about being even after the back nine here you would be pretty happy’,” Johnson said. “So I took that and continued on to the front.”
The roller coaster first round was not the only excitement Johnson has experienced in the last couple days. With a late withdrawal, he was the last player to gain entry into The Junior Players Championship and has made the most of his opportunity.
“It was 5:30 in the evening and I was playing golf, getting ready to go to West Virginia,” Johnson said. “My mom called me and said we are going to have to change our plane tickets. I was pretty excited.”
Johnson feels that this does not change his mentality and is looking forward to the rest of the weekend.
'You can’t win on the first day and you just have to take it from there,” Johnson said. “That’s what I do, at least.”
Behind Johnson and Stewart are Billy Kennerly of Alpharetta, Ga., and Wyndham Clark of Greenwood Village, Colo., who sit in third at 2-under-par 70. Shun Yat Hak of Lake Mary, Fla., and JD Tomlinson of Gainesville, Fla., are tied for fifth after a 1-under-par 71.