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KAPALUA, Hawaii - Intimidated? Why would Zach Johnson be intimidated?
During today's third round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua Resort, Johnson will be paired with defending champion Dustin Johnson in the day's final group, going off at 12:41 p.m. HST. Even though they have played together on U.S. Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams, they won't talk much, unless Dustin feels like turning around and yelling back up the fairway at Zach, who will be 30-40 yards behind him.
Like that hasn't happened to Zach before. Question is, when hasn't it?
"I played with Duf [Jason Dufner] today, and I was right next to him, but maybe I had less to eat for Christmas," Johnson said with a laugh.
On the leaderboard, no one is next to Johnson. After a bogey-free 7-under 66 Saturday on the Plantation Course, the former Masters champion holds a three-stroke lead over Dustin Johnson, Matt Kuchar and 2013 Rookie of the Year Jordan Spieth. Zach stands at 13-under-par 133 at the tournament's halfway mark despite failing to birdie a par-5 hole. He has, however, birdied 11 of the 22 par-4 holes he has played.
Johnson, 37, is playing arguably the strongest stretch of his career, even better than when he won the 2007 Masters. Though unofficial, his last victory was just a few weeks ago in the Northwest Mutual World Challenge, where he beat Tiger Woods in a playoff after erasing a four-stroke deficit in the last eight holes against the No. 1 player in the world and the best closer, perhaps, the game has ever seen.
Last year, the Iowa native converted just 12 birdies in three rounds in finishing T-18. Already this week he has carded 15 birdies over 36 holes at the Plantation Course, which sets up much better for the longer hitters in the field.
"I'm just comfortable with everything I'm doing," Johnson said.
Asked if he has ever had a better stretch of golf, one that includes a FedExCup Playoff win at the BMW Championship in September and a strong Presidents Cup performance, the 10-time tour winner shook his head. "No, I haven't," he said. "... I feel good about my game, but I've still got to go play."
"His confidence has never been higher, I don't think," said his caddie, Damon Green. "When he came in here, even though he hadn't practiced much the last few weeks, he said he still felt like his game was ready."
While Dustin Johnson said the course sets up perfect for him, he is not surprised by what Zach is doing. "He is such a good wedge player, and I don't think I ever shot a bad score putting well and Zach is a very good putter," said Dustin, who also had a 66 Saturday. "But this golf course, it doesn't favor one style of play, I don't think. You put yourself in the right position and roll in a few putts, you'll do well."
Dustin said earlier in the week that his formula at the Plantation Course is to attack the par-5s and some of the short par-4s and then stay away from trouble on some of the more difficult holes.
That would not be Zach's formula. He assessed the disparity in their games and then said, "I would say I'm up by three gross and up by eight or nine net."
Psychology goes a long way in golf. So, back to our original statement. Zach Johnson is not intimidated. Not by Tiger Woods. Not by Dustin Johnson. Not by a golf course that really doesn't suit him. Why would Zach Johnson be intimidated?