Zach Johnson Defending Masters champ Zach Johnson says win at Augusta touched off wild, grueling ride

In some ways, defending Masters champion Zach Johnson says he feels like he was slipping on the famed green jacket for the first time just yesterday. In other respects, the Iowa native said his 2007 victory at Augusta National seems like it took place a decade ago.

Whatever the time line, Johnson was awash in good feelings Sunday when he turned down Magnolia Lane to begin preparations for this week's Masters.

"It's just the old vibes, the old memories, the feelings — it's just great to have," Johnson told reporters. "As far as last year and what's transpired and what's gone on, I had no idea what I was going to get myself into, especially when I left this chair last year."

Winning his first major made Johnson an instant hero back in Iowa. He admitted that it was overwhelming at times and especially stressful, having to occasionally say no to people who wanted to arrange events to honor him.

Still, Johnson said he wouldn't change a thing about the experience.

"It was all positive - not one second of it I would change," Johnson said. "I probably got run down the middle of the summer, but you know, I learned from it, so I'm hoping next time around - if there is a next time - that I'll be more ready."

Players often say after winning their first major that it takes a while for the accomplishment to actually sink in. Johnson said he found that to also be the case, especially when he'd occasionally open his closet and be almost shocked to see his green jacket hanging there.

"It hits you about two weeks to a month after, and after that it hits you periodically," Johnson said. "Every now and then, you wake up and you just go into your closet and, 'Oh yeah, forgot about that one."

Last year, Johnson closed with a 3-under-par 69 for a two-shot victory over Tiger Woods, Retief Goosen and Rory Sabbatini. Johnson finished at 1-over 289, marking the first winning score over par since 1956.

Johnson said he had no idea if an above-par score would ever win the Masters again.

"It's not a matter of everybody playing mediocre to poor. It's just all condition based. That's weather," Johnson said. "Last year, especially I would say Thursday afternoon, Friday and certainly Saturday, it was - I don't want to compare it to a U.S. Open, but it kind of had that feel.

"The course was great last year. With the conditions that were presented, the superintendents here and the agronomy people here did a great job. It's all conditions. I mean, score is irrelevant."

When it comes to Johnson defending his title, obviously one of the biggest threats is Woods. Not only has the world No. 1-ranked player won eight of his last 10 events, but he's also a four-time Masters champion with a history of playing well at Augusta National.

"I just feel comfortable on this golf course," Woods told reporters. "I've had some pretty good results here. Certain venues, if you look over my career, I've had some nice results [on], and certainly this is one of them."

Phil Mickelson is another top player who's enjoyed success in the Masters, winning in 2004 and 2006. He, like many other players in the field, said this is a tournament that everyone really looks forward to.

"It's such a special place for us as players and to have won this tournament in the past means so much to me as a player to have the chance to come back here every year," Mickelson told reporters. "We just look forward to it so much and it kicks off our season with all of the majors, and I can't think of a better place to do it."

The Masters

SCHEDULE: Thursday-Sunday
SITE: Augusta, Ga.
COURSE: Augusta National Golf Club (7,445 yards, par 72)
PURSE: TBA ($7.4 million in 2007). Winner's share: TBA ($1,305,000 in 2007)
FEDEX CUP POINTS: 27,500. Winner's share: 4,950
TV: ESPN (Thursday-Friday, 4-7 p.m., 8-11 p.m. EDT) and CBS (Saturday, 3:30-7 p.m. EDT; Sunday, 2:30-7 p.m. EDT)

April 10, 2008

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