Sizzling Johnson in early tie for John Deere lead

Thu Jul 10, 2014 3:28pm EDT
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(Reuters) - Former champion and 'local' favorite Zach Johnson charged into a share of the early lead with a sizzling, bogey-free display in Thursday's opening round of the John Deere Classic in Silvis, Illinois.

Winner of the PGA Tour event in 2012, the 38-year-old fired an eight-under-par 63 in ideal scoring conditions at the TPC Deere Run to end the round level with fellow American Brian Harman and South African Rory Sabbatini.

Johnson, with his driving and renowned short game in sparkling order, covered his outward nine in an explosive six-under 30 to raise thoughts of a possible 59 but he picked up just two more shots after the turn.

American Todd Hamilton, surprise winner of the 2004 British Open held at Royal Troon, and Australian Steve Bowditch opened with 64s while Zimbabwe's Brendon de Jonge and American Kevin Tway carded 65s.

Johnson, who was born just 90 miles away in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and has recorded top-three finishes in four of his last five starts in his "hometown" event, was delighted with his opening round.

"Extremely pleased," the 11-times PGA Tour winner told Golf Channel. "The word of the day for (his caddie) Lance (Bennett) and me was opportunity and I had a lot of opportunities.

"I missed just three greens but I putted on two of them. So I put myself into position to make birdies, I put myself into position basically to eliminate the big numbers, certainly even a bogey.

"Everything was really solid," said Johnson. "I drove it great, a couple of iron shots I'd like to have back but nothing significant. I actually had a couple more putts that could have dropped but I'm not complaining."

Asked whether he had thoughts of shooting a 59 after getting to eight under after 11 holes, Johnson replied: "It hit me. I'm like, 'How many holes have we played, how many under am I?' That kind of thing.   Continued...

Zach Johnson tees off on the 10th tee during the first round of the 2014 U.S. Open golf tournament at Pinehurst Resort Country Club - #2 Course. Jun 12, 2014; Pinehurst, NC, USA; Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports