John­son stays in strik­ing dis­tance

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - SPORTS - By Billy Hull bhull@starad­ver­tiser.com

Zach John­son once again sits com­fort­ably at 10 un­der par af­ter two rounds of the Sony Open in Hawaii.

His odds of hoist­ing a tro­phy on Sun­day are just a tad bet­ter than they were at this point a year ago.

In­stead of trail­ing the leader by seven shots, like he did as a close spectator of Justin Thomas’ record-break­ing four-day run around Wa­ialae Coun­try Club in 2017, John­son is within strik­ing dis­tance of Brian Har­man, trail­ing by just three head­ing into the week­end at a place he has thrived at in his ca­reer.

John­son, who shot a 67 af­ter open­ing with a 7-un­der 63 on Thurs­day, is search­ing for his third con­sec­u­tive top-10 at Wa­ialae.

He has shot par or bet­ter in 10 con­sec­u­tive trips around the course, and his 67 on Fri­day was his sev­enth 3-un­der round or bet­ter in that same pe­riod.

“I feel like my game’s in a po­si­tion to make a move,” said John­son, who is in a four-way tie for sec­ond. “I ac­tu­ally prob­a­bly hit it bet­ter than I scored for the most part. Two er­rant shots to­day that cost me two bo­geys.”

The first hap­pened on his open­ing swing of the round when he drove the ball right of the fair­way into a nasty spot in the rough on No. 10.

Af­ter con­sec­u­tive birdies to get off the schneid, John­son played from the right rough off the tee to the left rough on his third shot to set­tle for a sec­ond bo­gey on No. 16.

A steady diet of pars over the next eight holes ended with a 6-footer for birdie on the par-3 sev­enth.

Hole No. 9 kept John­son on the top page of the leader­board as he smoked — by his stan­dard — a 313-yard drive into the fair­way and then dropped in a 27-footer for ea­gle and a 67.

“That’s 20-some­thing feet. You’re just try­ing to get it go­ing on the right line. I’m fairly for­tu­nate that it ac­tu­ally hit the hole, be­cause I would have been at least 4, 5 feet past the hole,” John­son said. “I didn’t nec­es­sar­ily hit all my lines to­day with my put­ter, but I putted re­ally well yes­ter­day, and I feel like my best putting is still in front of me.”

The two-time ma­jor win­ner, who owns 12 PGA wins on his ré­sumé that in­cludes more than $42 mil­lion in ca­reer win­nings, needed to go 9 un­der over his fi­nal two rounds to claim his vic­tory here nine years ago.

In his other eight trips around Wa­ialae over the week­end, John­son has put to­gether con­sec­u­tive rounds in the 60s only twice, in­clud­ing last year, when the tour­na­ment was al­ready over be­fore play started on Sun­day.

With no sign of the fa­vor­able weather con­di­tions chang­ing over the week­end, it’ll likely take a sim­i­lar per­for­mance to catch Har­man, who is ar­guably the hottest player on tour, with top-10 per­for­mances in all five of his events — and four top­five fin­ishes — so far this sea­son.

“My mind-set is go­ing to still be pretty ag­gres­sive,” said John­son, who is look­ing for his first win since the 2015 Open Championship. “You’ve still got to put a num­ber up here at Wa­ialae be­cause guys are so good and I think slightly widen­ing the fair­ways and the greens hold­ing, you’ve got to be ag­gres­sive. If we have wind like this to­day, which was es­sen­tially min­i­mal, you’ve got to keep the pedal down.”

CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARAD­VER­TISER.COM

Zach John­son watched his tee shot on the first hole.

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