Zach Johnson, if history is any indication, will likely fall behind during this week’s Sony Open. If he does, his opponents, including reigning Masters champ Adam Scott, may have to resign themselves to playing for second place.
Johnson, the newly crowned Hyundai Tournament of Champions winner who’s looking to capture his second Sony title, enjoys playing catch-up, as his eight come-from-behind PGA Tour victories can attest.
Two shots off the pace of 54-hole co-leaders Spieth, Webb Simpson, and 2013 Hyundai winner Dustin Johnson to start Monday’s finale after a third-round 74, the more diminutive (and more accomplished) of the Johnsons began chipping away at the big boys, one precise wedge shot at a time.
"I just picked it apart," ZJ, who drew DJ in Monday’s penultimate pairing, said about his bogey-free, seven-birdie, 7-under 66 finish.
Contending he had to grind out the win, Johnson made it look easy as he "plotted" his way around the Plantation Course, zeroing in on pin after pin. In the end, the guy ranked 124th in driving distance left the boomers in his wake.
"I'm not saying I'm always an underdog, but I kind of feel like it," said Johnson, who appreciates sports stories in which the little guy pulls an upset -- like Wichita State making it to last year’s Final Four.
"I've always liked the teams and the individuals that are kind of coming from behind, that are not supposed to win," Johnson acknowledged. "I put myself in that posture where I feel like I'm an underdog. I didn't like putting myself in a two‑shot deficit posture, but sometimes that's the way it works."
He was in a similar situation when he stunned Tiger Woods at last month’s Northwestern Mutual World Challenge after holing out with a wedge from the drop zone on the final hole of regulation and beating the world No. 1 in overtime.
Beginning Thursday, Monday's winner will look to go back-to-back to start the year at Waialae Country Club where he triumphed in 2009. And while the 2007 Masters champ may be at ease having to overcome a deficit to get to the promised land, others in his entourage would prefer less nail-biting.
"I’m comfortable there. I don’t mind having to do that," Johnson said about making his way out of the pack to the top of the leaderboard.
"I hope there is an opportunity where I have a significant shot lead that I can maintain at some point, because that hasn't happened very often," he noted. "One thing my wife continues to say is, ‘Why can't you just make it easier on us?’
"Sorry, Honey," Johnson said about the challenges of beating the best players in the game, some of whom will contend in Honolulu this week, "but it's just hard."
As for explaining the success he’s enjoyed in Hawaii, the seventh-ranked player in the world offered just one word: "Aloha."