Zach Johnson of the United States reacts after a birdie on the 11th hole at Royal Lytham & St Annes golf club during the first round of the British Open Golf Championship, Lytham St Annes, England, Thursday, July 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- Ladbrokes, a legal book making agent in the United Kingdom, was of the notion following the first round of the British Open that the odds for Zach Johnson winning the championship are 12-1.
Johnson always sails along decidedly under the radar, which is nothing new for those who follow his career. Getting respect comes hard for this native of Iowa, but now a resident of St. Simons Island -- but you won't hear him complaining. Look at him, 5-11, 160 pounds -- never in his life has he been able to drive for show. Putting for dough, however, is another matter. If you visit his trophy room, you won't find any long-driving plaques, but his putting touch is where he excels, the main influencer of his trophy collection.
In the first round of the Open Thursday, Johnson scored a 5-under par 65 to finish tied for second place with former champion Paul Lawrie of Scotland and Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts -- one stroke back of leader Adam Scott.
The PGA Tour would frown on Johnson, hiking down to Ladbrokes and putting a few quid on himself, but who has a better game for this ancient layout? Playing with defending champion Darren Clarke and former champion Ernie Els, Johnson was often 50 yards behind them off the tee. He's used to that, but it doesn't faze him. He would rather have you peruse the PGA tour putting statistics when you analyze his game. He ranked No. 1, coming into the Open with an average of 1.7. This is the average number of putts made on greens hit in regulation. His birdie average is seventh best on tour with 3.9 (average number of birdies made per round played), and his scoring average (69.5) ranks him seventh on the tour.
Nobody comes to see him drive the ball, but if they pay attention, his game has been good enough to get him to the winner's circle nine times in the last six years on the tour. Already this year, he has won at Colonial and last week's John Deere Classic.
He has been the quiet man during his time on tour, walking softly and carrying big stick (putter). He makes no noise with his game or his style-- he just plays solidly we ek in and week out with a beaten path to the bank. He has had three multiple win seasons (2007, 2009 and in 2012). Six of his nine wins have been coming from behind.
Born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he won his first three tournaments in the State of Georgia: 2004 Bell South Classic, 2007 AT&T Classic and the 2007 Masters. It was fitting that he then adopted the state and moved to St. Simons Island.
Anyone who analyzes Johnson's game, sees opportunity at a course like Royal Lytham & St. Annes. To begin with, if you want to win majors, finding the fairway off the tee must be a priority. And, when you are playing British Open venues, that becomes an even greater priority with the nasty rough you encounter on this side of the Atlantic. Men with greater power than Johnson -- Jack Nicklaus at Muirfield in 1966 and Tiger Woods at Hoylake, just up the road, in 2006, took advantage of conditions and drove with one irons throughout the tournament. While Johnson doesn't have that kind of power, his fairway accuracy off the tee puts him in position to compete.
Avoiding the 206 bunkers at Royal Lytham is advisable, especially the pot bunkers in the fairways. After his round, Johnson assessed the importance of bunker play at Royal Lytham.
"My whole philosophy this week is avoiding those fairway bunkers and hitting solid shots, because I am putting fine. I feel this is one of those tournaments where you hit bad shots, there usually is a bad result. You hit good shots, you can get some good results. A quality shot can turn into pars and eliminate doubles."
Johnson wasn't the only Glynn resident smiling at the end of the day: Davis Love, Ryder Cup Captain, posted a 1-over par 71 and Players Champion Matt Kuchar had a 1-under par 69.
At 12-1 odds for Zach Johnson, I left Royal Lytham & St. Annes wondering if I should stop by Ladbrokes.
Loran Smith is co-host of "The Tailgate Show" and sideline announcer for Georgia football. He is also a freelance writer and columnist.