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Johnson Flirts with Magical 59

2006 The TOUR Championship presented by Coca-ColaATLANTA -- Zach Johnson kept his cool and stared down Tiger Woods to win the Masters. Five months later and 120 miles west of Augusta National, he felt an entirely different kind of pressure, and it didn't go quite as well.
'I could barely stand up,' Johnson said with a laugh.
In the latest run at 59 on a soft East Lake course, Johnson needed a birdie on the par-3 18th hole to become only the fourth player in PGA Tour history to hit golf's magic number. He pushed it badly into the bunker, blasted out to 2 feet and gladly settled for a 60 to break the course record Saturday at the Tour Championship.
And it's a record that probably will stand a long time -- unless someone breaks it in the final round.
The greens on the fabled course where Bobby Jones grew up nearly died two weeks ago, and tour officials did a remarkable job getting them ready for the Tour Championship.
But it led to a a perfect storm for scoring -- super soft greens that allow players to fire at the flags, slow surfaces that allow them to putt aggressively, and barren greens that have forced officials to keep pins toward the middle of the green.
Johnson still had to hit the shots and make the putts, and did he ever.
Playing alongside Ernie Els, the Masters champ went out in 31, then made his big run. He hit 4-iron to 5 feet on the 11th, 6-iron to 18 feet on the 13th, 8-iron to 10 feet on the next hole, then hit 2-iron to about 15 feet on the par-5 15th and made that for eagle.
Suddenly, he was 9 under for his round and needed only two birdies on the last three holes for 59.
'That's about when it hit me,' Johnson said.
The thought of a 59 felt like a sledge hammer when he hit 4-iron out of fairway bunker to 5 feet on the 17th for another birdie, leaving him one away from the magic number as he walked to the 223-yard closing hole.
'My shoulders felt heavy and my legs felt like they weighed nothing,' Johnson said. 'My hands were shaking and my heart was pounding. I was breathing all right, though. I guess the yoga that I've been doing helped out a little bit.'
He fanned the 2-iron, and knew when his bunker shot hit the green that it was too high of the hole to go in.
'We usually play to win golf tournaments,' Johnson said. 'And today, I was kind of playing to shoot 59.'
It was the third straight day someone had reason to think about a 59. Tim Clark was 8 under through 15 holes on Thursday and settled for three pars and a 62. Tiger Woods shot 28 on the front nine Friday and needed only four birdies on the back nine, but was tripped up by two bogeys. Even after Johnson finished, Mark Calcavecchia was 8 under for his round through 15 holes until a bogey on the 16th.
Johnson was not about to make apologies for his brush with 59.
'Fifty-nine is 59 is 59,' he said. 'Course can play easy, wind can be benign, the greens can be perfect speed, but you've got to get it done. That's what it boils down to.'
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