BETHESDA, Md. — When he was told how many shots Rory McIlroy was leading by, all Zach Johnson could do was shake his head and smile.
Johnson shot a 2-under 69 to finish the day at two under par, which would normally place him in the lead or near the lead at a U.S. Open. But normally someone doesn’t shoot rounds of 65-66, like McIlroy has done the first two days at Congressional.
“You know, that’s pretty good,” Johnson said.
While he’s nine shots off McIlroy’s lead, Johnson will find himself in one of the final groups on Saturday. The 2007 Masters champion knows there’s a long way to go, and McIlroy’s closing double bogey proved there are always big numbers lurking in a major.
“I can’t control the leaderboard,” Johnson said. “I certainly can’t control what Rory is doing or anybody. They’re just numbers. It’s completely irrelevant.”
Johnson would seem to have the game to win a U.S. Open. He’s accurate off the tee and one of the best putters on the PGA Tour, with a calm, confident demeanor perfect for handling the sucker punches thrown during a major. But in seven trips to the U.S. Open, Johnson has missed four cuts, with his best finish a T45 in 2007 at Oakmont.
“I don’t know why that is,” Johnson said of his U.S. Open struggles. “I just haven’t hit solid shots and putted well.”
Now that he’s finally playing well, Johnson said he won’t change his game plan on the weekend, no matter what McIlroy does. That doesn’t mean Johnson can’t toss up a few low numbers of his own.
After a good drive on the 555-yard, par-5 sixth hole on Friday, Johnson had 242 yards to the hole, a perfect number for a 3-wood. Johnson caught his second shot a little heavy, and he admitted he was lucky to avoid the water. He left himself about 40 feet for eagle, and drained the putt.
He’ll need a few more good bounces if he hopes to win his second major.
“The way I look at it, the pressure is off me,” Johnson said. “I’m not the one that’s supposed to win it right now.”