Even though he missed four makable birdie putts and bogeyed one of the five holes he had to play at dawn Saturday to complete his rain-delayed second round, Johnson had an inkling this was going to be his day at the International.
Sure enough, he birdied five holes and eagled another for a 15-point third round and the 54-hole lead at golf's most novel event, one which features two cuts and uses the modified Stableford scoring system.
'I had a makable birdie put on 5, 6, 7 and 8 and then I actually made a good bogey on 9,' Johnson said. 'It was unfortunate, I hit one in the water on 9, but at the same time, I made a pretty good save.'
And the optimistic 30-year-old player went to the clubhouse at Castle Pines feeling good about his game instead of lamenting his lost opportunities.
That positive attitude paid off for Johnson, whose 27 points heading into Sunday are one more than Steve Flesch and two more than Stewart Cink and Ian Leggatt. Tom Lehman is three points behind in fifth place.
But this isn't like stroke play. Big changes are the norm at the International, the only stop on the PGA Tour that uses the special scoring system that awards five points for eagles, two for birdies, nothing for pars and deducts one for bogeys and three for double-bogeys or worse.
So, mathematically, just about all of the 33 remaining golfers have a shot at the $990,000 winner's check.
'The point system kind of keeps it real going into the last day,' said Flesch, who has yet to eagle and is kicking himself for not playing more aggressively before Round 3 on the lush 7,619-yard layout.
Johnson, 30, who won the 2004 BellSouth Classic in his first year on the tour, was among half the field of 140 golfers who had to return to Castle Pines at dawn to complete the second round. Play was delayed more than 3 1/2 hours by a thunderstorm Friday afternoon that dumped more than a half inch of rain on the majestic mountain course.
Finishing on the front nine, Johnson's putter failed him for four holes before he teed off into the water, providing no hint to anybody but himself of what was to come.
When the top 70 golfers who made the first cut teed off again for Round 3, Johnson holed out from 96 yards from the fairway for an eagle on the first hole.
'Making that eagle was huge. It brings confidence, it brings momentum,' said Johnson, who birdied four of his last five holes. 'You jump a lot of people and that's the beauty of this format.'
Just before he eagled, a bee landed on Johnson's ball, forcing a bit of a delay.
'You can't touch your golf ball but you can kind of (shoo) the bee off,' he said. 'And eventually it moved. It was probably a wasp or a hornet or something, I don't know. It was big. I didn't want to kill it.'
Just as critical as that sensational start was Johnson's fantastic finish in the morning when he sank a 12-footer for a bogey save on No. 9.
'A horrible third shot and a horrible fourth shot. So, making that putt, I mean that's a two-point putt,' Johnson said. 'And any time you've got a two-point putt, I don't care what it's for, it's huge.'
Johnson is ninth in the Ryder Cup standings, and his solid season excites Lehman, captain of the U.S. team that will go to Ireland next month to try to bring home the cup for the first time since 1999.
'Zach has played very well all year. He's been very steady. He's had some good tournaments and the thing I like is that his bad tournaments have been not too bad,' Lehman said. 'If he plays poorly, he's 30th or 25th, and that's a very comforting thought when you're going into an international competition ... when you know that your player's bad golf is still pretty good.'
Lehman, however, shied away from questions about what he'd do if he played himself onto the Ryder Cup team.
'If I were to win tomorrow and I'd make the team,' Lehman said, pausing, 'I don't know what I'd do.'
2001 champion Tom Pernice Jr. took the 36-hole lead with 19 points but didn't add any in the third round, when he had five bogeys and a double-bogey. ... Phil Mickelson missed the 36-hole cut by one point. ... Saturday's play was interrupted by a 15-main rain delay. More rains are expected Sunday.