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Johnson defends title in British Open tuneup

Zach Johnson tees off from the 6th hole at TPC River Highlands on June 21, 2012 in Cromwell, Connecticut
Zach Johnson tees off from the 6th hole at TPC River Highlands on June 21, 2012 in Cromwell, Connecticut. Johnson defends his title at the US PGA Tour's $4.6 million John Deere Classic starting on Thursday, the last US tune-up for the British Open at Muir

Zach Johnson defends his title at the US PGA Tour's $4.6 million John Deere Classic starting on Thursday, the last US tune-up for the British Open at Muirfield.

Johnson ended Steve Stricker's three-year reign at the event last year, blasting out of a fairway bunker to about a foot from the pin at the second playoff hole to edge Troy Matteson -- who had led after each of the first three rounds.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Johnson was happy to be back at TPC Deere Run.

"I love everything about this tournament," he said. "I love the golf course. It's in great shape, as usual, and I just like coming back and seeing faces and friends and family.

"It feels like my backyard in a lot of respects, and fortunately I've had some success here.

"And I'm trying to put 2012 behind me. It's not like just because I won I've got a three-shot lead going into Thursday, so I frankly have to put it behind me, and that's going to be my approach."

South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen, the world number 10 who is the highest ranked player in the field, shares Johnson's enthusiasm for the tournament and for the sponsors.

He even brought his father and father-in-law, both farmers, to this week's tournament because he's such a fan of the farm equipment the sponsoring company makes.

"All of us are big John Deere fans, and I wanted them to come and see where it's made," said Oosthuizen, who farms 150 acres himself.

Oosthuizen withdrew from the US Open last month after the first round with a hip flexor injury.

"I'm still struggling a bit with my left hip," he said. "But it's more on walking, not on hitting the ball itself. But I've got the physio with me so we'll do a bit of work on it."

Otherwise, Oosthuizen said, his game is in pretty good shape.

"My game really felt OK the last few months, but the injuries have been really keeping me back and I couldn't really get going," he said.

The winner of the tournament will secure a British Open berth, if he isn't already qualified for the year's third major championship.

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