July 18, 2013 / 6:17 PM / in 5 years

British Open leader Zach proves he has the knack

GULLANE, Scotland (Reuters) - American Zach Johnson bucked the trend at bone-hard Muirfield on Thursday, snatching the driver out of his bag as often as possible to grab the early first-round lead on five-under 66 at the British Open.

Many of the players feel that using the longest, and riskiest, club in the bag is unnecessary when they are getting so much run on the ball by the banks of the Firth of Forth - but not the 2007 U.S. Masters champion.

“I‘m very comfortable on the tee box this year, specifically with my driver,” Johnson told reporters in scorching 80-degree temperatures on the east coast of Scotland.

“I know a lot of the guys are saying there are not a lot of drivers out here... but it’s one of my best clubs so I‘m going to take advantage of that when I can.”

Johnson is one of several Americans high up on the leaderboard, with 56-year-old Mark O‘Meara having shot a 67 and Dustin Johnson, Tom Lehman and Brandt Snedeker going round in 68. Phil Mickelson, Todd Hamilton and Jordan Spieth are a further stroke behind.

”Maybe they all have the same kind of mentality I have ... having fun,“ he said. ”I‘m staying with a buddy, my caddie and our physio guy and we’re just having a good week.

”I love it because we don’t have it in the States. We don’t get to play golf courses like Muirfield.

“I appreciate how the game was developed and formed (over here). I just thoroughly enjoy it.”

Johnson certainly enjoyed the blistering start he made to the round as he mixed an eagle three at the fifth with birdies at the third, sixth and seventh.

The American is renowned for a velvet touch on the greens and he prompted loud cheers from the crowd when he rolled in a 45-foot effort at the fifth and another 20-foot birdie putt on the 12th.

Johnson suffered the disappointment of losing out in a playoff to 19-year-old compatriot Spieth at the John Deere Classic in Illinois on Sunday.

“This game demands resilience, each round, each hole and day to day, and that comes with experience,” he said.

”It comes with embracing what’s happened and then also throwing it behind you and plodding along to the future. I felt great about last week, I’ll be honest with you.

“I don’t want to say I lost the golf tournament but I certainly had ample opportunities to win it,” added Johnson.

”The last nine holes in particular I hit great shots, I just didn’t make many putts. If anything from last week what I’ve embraced is the fact I‘m playing great.

“I can put that into play and I‘m certainly confident in what I‘m doing.”

Editing by Pritha Sarkar

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