(Reuters) - While many players prefer to skip tournament golf the week before a major championship, Zach Johnson was never going to be anywhere else but in Memphis for the St. Jude Classic starting on Thursday.
Arguably the hottest player on the PGA Tour after winning the Colonial Invitational and posting two runner-up spots in his last four starts, Johnson is eager to be back in action with next week’s U.S. Open in San Francisco fast approaching.
“I like to play, I like to be in the competitive mode going into a major,” the 36-year-old American told reporters on Tuesday.
”I get the question a lot, ‘Why are you playing Memphis?', and usually the premise behind that question is, one, it’s in front of the U.S. Open, and two, it just seems like a lot of guys skip this event.
“I don’t know why they skip it. I think this is one of the most underrated tournaments on the PGA Tour. Once you experience it, I think it’s pretty obvious.”
Johnson, whose only major victory came at the 2007 Masters, has long been a fan of the challenging, par-70 layout at the TPC Southwind.
“The golf course is really, really good,” the eight-times PGA Tour champion said. “It’s really hard. You shoot under par here essentially any day, regardless of the conditions, you’re playing pretty good golf.”
Johnson skipped last week’s Memorial tournament after winning the previous event, the Colonial Invitational in Fort Worth, Texas. Despite taking the week off, he believes he can maintain his red-hot form.
”I feel somewhat refreshed,“ he said. ”I’ve got a three-week stint coming up here, but I feel good about it. Even if I wouldn’t have won The Colonial, I still would feel really good about what I‘m doing.
“My short game and my ball-striking are both coming along very nicely. If I can just get into a good rhythm for the week, I think good things can happen.”
Also competing this week is Northern Irish world number two Rory McIlroy, who has missed his last three cuts worldwide and added this event to his playing schedule in a bid to sharpen his game for his title defence at the June 14-17 U.S. Open.
American Harrison Frazar defends the St. Jude Classic crown he won last year in a sudden-death playoff with Sweden’s Robert Karlsson.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Julian Linden