Former champ Zach Johnson disappointed no fans at Masters

Published 4:31 pm Thursday, August 13, 2020

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By Pete Iacobelli, AP Sports Writer

Zach Johnson had missed the cut in seven of his first 11 majors and needed help from outside the ropes to contend at the 2007 Masters.

He found that support on nearly every hole that Sunday 13 years ago from the loud, supportive fans who cheered him on to the first of his two major championships.

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That won’t be the case this year as tournament organizers announced Wednesday the already-delayed event will be played in November without fans.

“I really can’t fathom it,” said Johnson, playing at the Wyndham Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, this week.

The Masters, in a statement, said that bringing patrons and guests onto the grounds was a risk “too significant to overcome.”

Johnson has fond, if nerve-wracking, memories of his Sunday charge to the front. He began two shots off the lead with Tiger Woods, who had already won four of his five Green Jackets, in the hunt, too.

But Johnson said the spirit of the gallery kept him pumped and confident. He took the lead with birdies on the 13th and 14th holes, then capped his charge with a dramatic birdie on the par-3 16th as scores of fans cheered and yelled.

“I felt like I was pushed with high energy by the fans,” Johnson recalled.

The PGA Tour has played events without fans since it returned to action in mid-June and last week’s initial major, the PGA Championship at Harding Park in San Francisco, was minus galleries at the facility.

There will be no fans at the U.S. Open next month at Winged Foot in New York and now, none at the Masters.

The British Open, set for last July, was canceled due to the pandemic.

“I think the hardest adjustment we have is just not having fans, not having those support people out there so when you hit golf shots and you don’t know where the greens are, you don’t really know if it’s a good shot or not,” said Patrick Reed, the 2018 Masters champion also playing the Wyndham.

Paul Casey has played in 11 of the past 13 Masters. He finished second at the PGA Championship last week.

Casey said it’s “surreal” and wondered with a laugh if organizers were going to “pipe in roars.”

“It’s the one place I truly feel like the players are rock stars,” he said. “And everybody pays attention to the golfers in front of them and you feel very, very special as a player playing there.

As a past champion, Johnson has played in the last 12 tournaments at Augusta National. Even when not in contention, he’s awed by the loyalty and love Masters patrons show competitors. He recalled the end of last year’s event as Woods was capturing his fifth title there how the roars over the final nine holes thrilled him.

When Woods’ victory was secured, Johnson was by the scoring area and watched as fans created a tunnel for Woods to walk between that was like “nothing I’ve ever seen.”

Scenes like that are evident every year, former U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson said. He believes Augusta National is a place where the fans define the tournament — both with the hushed silence as players hit as with the raucous noise at the result.

Simpson said he was saddened at the decision, but is grateful the tournament will be held.

“That’s the tournament where fans make the biggest difference,” Simpson said.

Not this year.