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Last years fluke starts off strong
Johnson 3 col BW
    AUGUSTA — For Zach Johnson, Thursday couldn’t get here soon enough.
    “I was ready to go,” the defending Masters champion said after carding a 2-under 70 in the opening round of the tournament. “I was probably ready to go last week.”
    Though his peers say they’ve been well aware of Johnson’s abilities for quite some time, Johnson is still trying to shake the “surprise winner” label stuck on him after taking home last year’s green jacket. The Iowa native was a relative unknown before he picked up his first major win a year ago, but he pays no attention to talk of the victory being a fluke.
    “I don’t get caught up in the negative stuff,” the affable Iowa native said. “I can’t. If anything, I kind of twist (negatives) around and turn them into a positive. I don’t care — they can say what they want.”
    Johnson was near the top of the leaderboard all day Thursday, a measured step towards proving last year was no accident. At the end of the warm and sunny day, he was just two shots behind co-leaders Justin Rose and Trevor Immelman and tied for sixth place.    He doesn’t usually get the jitters, but Johnson could definitely feel butterflies swarming inside his stomach as worked his way through the first few holes of his fourth Masters appearance. He said he was more anxious than nervous, mostly because he was playing in the Masters and not because of his status as the reigning king.
    “It’s good to know I’ve still got some emotions,” Johnson said.
    He started the day on a positive note - a birdie on the first hole – and picked up late-round momentum with back-to-back birdies on No. 12 and 13, part of the toughest stretch on the revered course.
    But it’s still early.
    “Last year is last year,” Johnson said. “I had decent numbers today, but it’s just Thursday.”
    Initially, Johnson was surprised to look up and spot Iowa governor Chet Culver in the crowd Thursday, but he wasn’t the least bit shocked.
    “The support in Iowa I think is second to none, and (Culver) is certainly a model for that,” Johnson said.
    When it comes to staying on the leaderboard, Johnson said it is imperative he stays consistent with his putting. He recently had some fundamental issues on the green but took time to work through them and correct his concerns.
    “My game plan is to make putts,” he said.
    And as Johnson proved last year, anyone’s capable of winning this prestigious tournament.
    “There’s not a surprise guy in the field as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
    But don’t rule out the possibility of him taking home a second-straight Masters title.
    “Having that green jacket for a year has been a blessing, a privilege and an honor, so I am looking forward to many more green jackets, hopefully this year,” he said. “I don’t know who is going to put it on me.”

    Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.