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Johnson Stuns at BellSouth Classic

April 6, 2002

DULUTH, Ga. (AP) _ Zach Johnson was the only player who got this question when he came off the 18th green at the BellSouth Classic.

``Hey,″ a boy asked, ``do you like Hooters for the wings or the girls?″

Johnson, a 26-year-old member of the minor-league Hooters Tour, was the most surprising player on the leaderboard after Saturday’s third round.

He shot a 3-under 69 _ his third straight sub-par round _ and was at 8-under 208 overall.

``This is what I intended,″ Johnson said. ``But I had no idea I would actually be here.″

Not bad for a guy who didn’t get into the tournament until Monday, earning his spot with a qualifying round. This was just his second PGA Tour event; he missed the cut in the Michelob Championship at Kingsmill last year.

``I thought I would be a little more nervous,″ Johnson said. ``It feels a little more natural than I thought it would. Every once in a while, I’ll think to myself, ‘Look where you are.’ But I try not to look at the scoreboard too much. Mentally, that can screw me up.″

Johnson’s clubs were in a tiny bag with the orange Hooters logo on the side. He called up a former college teammate, Mark Ohde, to handle caddying duties.

Ohde, who played with Johnson at Drake, now lives in nearby Athens.

``I saw him a couple of weeks ago and I didn’t even know he’d be trying to play here,″ Ohde said. ``It was a pleasant surprise.″

Putting is the strength of Johnson’s game. He made a 40-foot birdie on his second hole Thursday, which gave him a spark that carried through to the weekend on the slick, undulating greens at the TPC at Sugarloaf.

``He’s got a great feel for these greens,″ Ohde said.

Johnson has only a couple of three-putts through the first three rounds, both at the 14th hole.

``I threw some shots away, like we all do, but I putted well,″ said Johnson, who had five birdies on Saturday.

The Iowa native tried twice to qualify for the Quad City tournament, near his home state, but failed both times. He entered the BellSouth on a whim, having played last weekend at a Hooters tournament just a 1 1/2-hour drive away.

``It was just outside of Greenville, Alabama,″ Johnson said, before correcting himself. ``No, wait, it was South Carolina. They cut the event to 36 holes because of rain. I have no idea where I finished. Maybe 20th or 30th, something like that.″

He still feels a bit uncomfortable in the clubhouse, having seen most of the faces only on television. He does know Dan Forsman, who played a practice round with Johnson on Tuesday and helped him get familiar with the course.

But Forsman missed the cut, so Johnson had to make do on the weekend with family and friends. His father was among those in the gallery.

If Johnson finishes in the top 10 at the BellSouth, he’ll earn an exemption into the Greater Greensboro Chrysler Classic, which begins April 25 in North Carolina.

``I’m not even thinking about that,″ said Johnson, who left the course in a tie for eighth. ``Man, these guys are good.″

Afterward, he signed autographs for everyone who came up on his walk to the clubhouse.

Was he enjoying himself?

``Absolutely,″ Johnson replied, flashing a grin.

How many times does he get this sort of treatment on the Hooters Tour?

``Nil,″ he said.

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