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Inside the Ropes: Johnson glad to lend a hand to McGladrey Classic

The SportsXchange

Following a long bounce-back season that concluded with the PGA Tour playoffs and the Ryder Cup, you might think Zach Johnson would be off on an extended vacation.

Instead, he is playing this week in the McGladrey Classic for the third consecutive year.

Johnson wouldn't miss it, and not only because the Seaside Course at Sea Island Resort is right down the road from his home in St. Simons Island, Ga.

"The McGladrey Classic is quite important to me," Johnson told The Sports Xchange. "McGladrey has been a longtime partner of mine, and my business relationship with them is something I value greatly.

"When they started thinking about hosting a PGA Tour event and they looked at doing it in on Sea Island, well, that really excited me. Sea Island is a special place, and my family loves living here.

"To have a home game, so to speak, and to be here tournament week on behalf of McGladrey is very special, to say the least."

Johnson has played in the tournament, with mixed results, in each of its first two years of existence, finishing in a tie for 12th in the inaugural event before shooting 70-75--145 to miss the cut by six strokes last year.

He knows better than most players the challenges of the Seaside Course.

"The Seaside course is a great golf course and one whose demeanor can change drastically based on the winds off the water," the 2007 Masters champion said. "On a benign day you can shoot a good score and make some birdies, but if the winds kicks up it becomes a real challenge.

"I am hoping for a good week and can't wait for the tournament because the course is in great shape."

Zach suffered through a subpar season in 2011, posting only four finishes in the top 10, and fell short of the top 30 on the money list by two spots to miss the Tour Championship.

However, his runner-up finish in the Chevron World Challenge in December, when tournament host Tiger Woods had to birdie the last two holes to beat him, gave him some impetus heading into this season.

Johnson didn't come flying out of the chute this year but got it going when he finished second in the RBC Heritage in April and tied for second at the Players Championship a month later.

Then he captured the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial two weeks later.

That was his first victory on the PGA Tour since winning the same event two years earlier and gave him three top-two finishes in a span of four tournaments.

"I think 2012 is a product of 2011," said Johnson, who finished 12th in the FedEx Cup standings this year. "Really did some nice things last year, just didn't show up on paper or on my scorecard, if you will.

"But I felt like ... the direction was good and the process was good, it was just a matter of sticking to it, and it started to finally surface this year."

Johnson wasn't through after winning at Colonial, where he survived a bizarre two-stroke penalty on the final green after forgetting to move his ball marker to its original position because it was in the line of Jason Dufner's putt.

All that meant was that he won by one stroke over Dufner instead of by three, but he put that behind him quickly.

The highlight of his season was yet to come. He won the John Deere Classic in July by beating Troy Matteson by hitting his approach from a fairway bunker to within a foot of the hole from 193 yards for a birdie on the second playoff hole.

"I liked that crescendo from the crowd," said Johnson, who is from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, about an hour from TPC Deere Run, and is on the board of directors of the John Deere Classic.

"Outside of the major championships and the bigger events like the WGC events and the Player's Championship, the two events that naturally have more importance to me are the John Deere Classic and the McGladrey Classic. John Deere has been great to me, helping me with sponsor exemptions into their event when I was just starting my career. With the proximity to my hometown of Cedar Rapids and the great relationships I enjoy with the tournament and staff, the JDC is a very special event to me.

"It just feels awesome. This tournament has meant so much to me and my family. I don't really like making things a bigger deal than what they should be. It means a great deal now that I've done it."

A victory this week at his adopted home would mean just as much.

COMING UP

PGA TOUR: McGladrey Classic on the Seaside Course at Sea Island Resort in St. Simons Island, Ga., Thursday through Sunday.

TV: Thursday through Sunday, 2-5 p.m. EDT, on the Golf Channel each day.

Last year: Ben Crane rallied from seven strokes down with 11 holes remaining and claimed the fourth victory of his PGA Tour career with a par on the second playoff hole, where Webb Simpson's putt for par hit the hole and spun away. The 35-year-old Crane, whose wife, Heather, was due to give birth to their third child by Caesarian section the next day, nearly withdrew from the tournament because of that and a nagging hip injury. Instead, he hung around and strung together four consecutive birdies around the turn and added four more in succession through No. 17 en route to a closing 7-under-par 63. Simpson, seeking his third victory of the season, closed with a 66 but could not convert his putt after Crane holed his for five feet on the second extra hole. It was the 18th playoff on the PGA Tour in 2011, a record.

CHAMPIONS TOUR: AT&T Championship at TPC San Antonio at ATT Canyons in San Antonio, Texas, Oct. 26-28.

TV: Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 7:30-9:30 p.m. EDT, on the Golf Channel each day.

LAST YEAR: Fred Couples shot 6-under-par 66 in the final round and ran away to a seven-stroke victory over Mark Calcavecchia, the largest margin of victory on the Champions Tour in 2011. Calcavecchia, who also closed with a 66, got to within four strokes of the lead with a 12-foot birdie putt on the 10th hole, but Couples pulled away with five birdies on the last eight holes, including the final two. Couples, who won for the second time in the 2011 season, also had a seven-stroke victory a year earlier in the Administaff Small Business Classic at the Woodlands, Texas.

LPGA TOUR: LPGA KEB-Hana Bank Championship on the Ocean Course at Sky 72 Golf Club in Incheon, South Korea, Friday through Sunday.

TV: Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 7:30-9:30 p.m. EDT, on the Golf Channel each day.

LAST YEAR: Yani Tseng of Taiwan, the top-ranked player in the Rolex Women's Golf Rankings, posted a bogey-free 5-under-par 67 in the final round and held off two-time defending champion Na Yeon Choi by one stroke. The 22-year-old Tseng claimed her sixth PGA Tour victory of the season and won for the 10th time around the world in 2011. Tseng extended her lead to two strokes when she drove the green on the par-4 15th hole in the final round and two-putted for a birdie, then survived a birdie on the final hole by Choi, who close with a 68.
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