Notes Johnson Lurking Couples Struggling


AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Zach Johnson got another surprise at the Masters.
This one wasnt quite as good as last years; nothing tops getting your very own green jacket. But its a good bet no other player had the governor of his home state in the gallery, as the defending champion did Thursday when Iowas Chet Culver showed up.
I did not know he was going to be here, Johnson said after shooting a 2-under 70 in the first round that left him tied for sixth. 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 its all about, certainly meeting Governor Culver and his family, the support is second to none.
Granted, thats where Im from, so Im a little biased.
The self-proclaimed normal guy from Iowa surprised just about everybody when he held off Tiger Woods to win the Masters last year. His victory was considered by many to be little more than a fluke of the weather. The blustery cold prevented others from going low and allowed him to play it safe'he didnt go for a single par 5 all week'and his 1-over 289, tied for highest winning scorer in Masters history.
Yet here Johnson is again near the top of the leaderboard.
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, he said. Theres not a surprise guy on the leaderboard or a surprise guy in the field, as far as Im concerned.
Johnson will never be confused with the games longest hitter, but his short game is solid and look out if hes putting well. Thats been his biggest problem this year, when hes had just one top-10 finish. But he did just fine in the opening round, making a 15-footer on No. 1 to kick off this years Masters.
He made a wickedly long putt on No. 5 for a second birdie and another 15-footer on the 13th.
I had a decent number today, but it was just Thursday, Johnson said. I felt like I played today for today; in other words, not thinking about tomorrow, not thinking about last year. I played Thursday, April 10th, for April 10th. That kind of sounds pretty simple and elementary, but maybe thats how my brain functions. Its just a good, solid round going into Friday.
Actually, not thinking about last year might be as impressive as those 15-footers.
This has been a hectic week for Johnson. He did a news conference Tuesday after his practice round, then had the Champions Dinner that night. Hes been congratulated and asked for autographs everywhere he turns, and he still cant quite get over the fact hes not going to get busted when he goes into the champions locker room.
I just couldnt wait to get started, he said. I wanted to put last year behind me and start playing again. I dont get first-tee jitters on tour much'I cant remember the last time I did. But I had them here on 1, I had them here on 2. But its good to know I still have some feelings, and good ones at that.
PLAY(ER) IT AGAIN: Gary Players latest triumph at Augusta National was 51 years in the making.
The three-time champion is playing in his 51st Masters this week, topping the record for most played that hed shared with Arnold Palmer.
Its a thrill. Its a thrill to know now I hold the record, Player said. Of course, all records are made to be broken, arent they? Somebody will come along and break 51 one day, I guess.
Not for a while.
Raymond Floyd has the next-longest streak among active players, and hes playing in his 44th Masters. Ben Crenshaw made his 37th start at Augusta National on Thursday.
I hope so! Crenshaw said when asked if hell ever catch Player. To have (Player and Palmer) here this long, theyre so much a part of this place. They made it what it is.
Its been years since Player, a nine-time major champion and one of only five golfers to win the career Grand Slam, was a threat at the Masters. Hes only made the cut twice in the last 17 years and wont again this year after opening with an 11-over 83 on Thursday. But thats not a bad number for a 72-year-old, who now considers 80 his par.
So I was 3-over today, he said. I thought I was going to go for a lot more, but I played the back nine well.
Player shot 39 on the back nine, and had his only birdie of the day on the par-5 13th.
Thats a tough golf course, he said. The toughest golf course that Ive ever played, not even a doubt.
But dont expect him to join Palmer as an honorary starter next year.
I still putt very well and my short game is still very good, he said. I have been playing very nicely and I played very poorly today, really, except the back nine.
OBERHOLSER OUT: With a 1-under 71 Thursday, it would seem Arron Oberholsers array of injuries are behind him.
Not even close.
Oberholser said he will take at least the next two months off after the Masters, and has already received a medical exemption for next season. Hes played only three other events this season.
I cant be out there hitting balls or doing anything, he said. If I take two months completely off and then dont hit a ball and try to come back in the middle of the summer, its going to take me a month to get my game back to where I want it to be, anyway.
I think what Im going to do is just play a couple events late in the season this year and call it a year. Then Ill have 22 or 23 events next year to do what I need.
For months, Oberholser has been feeling a pull on the nerve in his right shoulder when he swings. Sometimes, the pain shoots all the way down to his elbow. His left hand doesnt feel right, either, after having surgery last October to correct a recurring injury.
The doctor who did my surgery didnt understand what a golfer has to do with his left hand to hold a club, and thats where the surgery was. It was right in the palm of my left hand where I hold the golf club, Oberholser said. I came back too early because I thought I could. I can play one round of golf, I might even be able to play two decent rounds of golf. But to play three, four consecutive and then to play two, three weeks in a row, I cant do it.
One thing Oberholser wont do is have more surgery. After the last few months, he doesnt want to see any more doctors.
Im tired of listening to doctors, to be honest with you, he said. Its all guesswork and white coats. Im not happy right now. Can you tell? Its very frustrating.
CUTTING IT CLOSE: Fred Couples needs to pick it up. Hes got a streak to preserve.
The former champion has never missed the weekend at the Masters, sharing the record for consecutive cuts made (23) with Gary Player. But his 4-over 76 Thursday has him in a tie for 65th. The top 44 and ties'plus those within 10 strokes of the leader'make the cut.
I misclubbed a lot of shots, and they were hard shots. I didnt hit very good ones and I didnt make many putts, so when you do that, it kind of adds up to 76, which is very mediocre, Couples said.
Couples rough start was a surprise, considering he tied for fourth at the Houston Open last weekend. It was his best finish of the year, and highest since he tied for third at the 2006 Masters.
But Couples has been in this spot before at Augusta National and recovered. He shot a 78 in the first round in 1996, rebounded with a 68 the next day and wound up tying for 15th.
I hit the ball well. It wasnt like I embarrassed myself, he said. Youve got to make birdies. If I could have made a couple more birdies and hung in there, maybe I wouldnt have tried a couple shots that I put myself in horrible places by trying to get a little greedy.
GIMME AN O!: Apparently there are still a few people who havent caught on to Boo Mania.
Boo Weekleys folksy ways have made him a fan favorite'he borders on cult hero'on both sides of the Atlantic, and hes greeted with loud cheers of BOOOOOO! wherever he plays. But a few people at Augusta National were either ignorant or, to give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe trying to be polite, instead calling out, Way to go, Bo.
They dont understand the last `o, I guess, Weekley said.
DIVOTS: U.S. Amateur runner-up Michael Thompson fared the best of the three amateurs in the field. Thompson, who plays at Alabama, shot a 2-over 73. Two-time winner Bernhard Langer received a one-stroke penalty because his ball moved after he addressed it on the ninth hole. He took a 2-over 6 on the hole, and finished with a 2-over 74. Only 18 players in the field of 94 broke par.

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