World No 1 Dustin Johnson on course to re-write Masters record books
Not since Tiger Woods did the trick in 2002 has the world No 1 vindicated that mantle in the Masters. The record books are about to be re-written, though, if Dustin Johnson keeps this up in the 84th edition of the Green Jacket joust at Augusta National.
Five players were tied for the lead at the halfway stage before that became a nine-way logjam early in the third round. Almost in a flash, though, Johnson seemed to have turned the final men's major of 2020 into a one-horse race heading into the final round.
The 2016 US Open champion hit one of the best shots you'll ever see to set up a tap-in eagle-3 at the second. He immediately backed that up with back-to-back birdies before adding further gains at the seventh, 13th and 15th.
Apart from fortune being on his side with tee shots at the fifth and sixth, it was a masterclass from the 36-year-old as he added a 65 to opening rounds of 65 and 70.
It was Johnson's 10th consecutive round under par in this event, tying Tiger Woods' all-time tournament record set between 2000 and 02.
His 16-under total was one short of beating Jordan Spieth’s record, but he's sitting pretty heading into the final round, having come into this week on the back of four consecutive top-10 finishes at the Georgia venue, as well as a hot streak of form on the PGA Tour.Johnson leads by four shots Korea's Sungae Im (68), Mexican Abraham Ancer (69) and Australian Cameron Smith (69), with South African Dylan Frittelli (67) next on 11-under, one ahead of world No 3 Justin Thomas (71).
"It was a really good day," said Johnson. "I have been playing well. If I can get it in the fairway, I know I am going to give myself a lot of chances for birdies and just needed to get a few putts to drop.
"I would feel more comfortable with a few shots more than four, but I feel confident about my game and I just have to keep executing my shots and shoot another good number tomorrow."
Even after bouncing back manfully from his opening 75 with a gutsy 66, career grand slam-chasing Rory McIlroy started out in the third round six shots off the lead.
Thanks to some impressive clutch putting, he covered the first seven holes in one-under before producing the sort of burst he needed to get in the mix.
Birdies had already been marked on his card at the eighth and ninth when he hit it close at the tenth, one of the toughest holes on the course. He hated his tee shot at the short 12th. "Oh Rory, that is so bad," he shouted out, perhaps fearing it might get wet but actually found sand and holed it from there for a fourth birdie in five holes.
The burst had taken him into the top 10. He was closing in on the top five after hitting a lovely chip to nine feet with his third at the par-5 13th only to three-putt. Talk about taking the wind out of your sails. After all the good work he'd produced to haul himself up the leaderboard, it was a sore one.
As was finding the water with his second at the 15th, the other par-5 on the back nine, though he managed to escape with there without any further spillage after a great up and down from 81 yards. That was important and, so, too was the 12-footer that was converted for a birdie-2 at the 16th. It was celebrated with a little fist pump and rightly so.
Equally pleasing after finding sand off the tee was a par-4 to finish. From left of the green, he took the high route to leave himself with a tap in while Bernhard Langer, playing in the same group after becoming the oldest player at 63 to make the cut in this event, ran one up for the same result. Golf at its best.
"Really satisified," said McIlroy, who, since the start of the major season in 2015, has been 28-over in first rounds and 61-under in the rounds thereafter, of his 67 for eight-under.
"I set myself a target of getting to double digits. Did not quite get there, but it was a really good round of golf. I had a slight hiccup on 13, but it's been a solid couple days of golf.
"I have probably given myself too much to do after the 75, but I'll see where eight-under leaves me and try to shoot a good score tomorrow. I've not really had a good round here on a Sunday, so it's about time.
"I feel good. My game is there. I have shown that the last couple of days. It's a matter of playing the same way tomorrow and, though I will probably need to be a few lower, I can hopefully set a target for the guys to chase."
Tiger Woods, the defending champion, battled a stiff back as he had to settle for a par-72 in the third circuit, leaving him well behind Johnson on five-under. His hopes of joining Jack Nicklaus as a six-time winner here will almost certainly have to wait until the next instalment in April.
"I'm tired," admitted the 15-time major winner after playing 26 holes in the one day after being among the players having to complete their second circuits following a three-hour weather delay on Thursday morning.
"I was up at 3.15, so it's been a long day and a long grind. It feels like it's midnight right now. It feels like I was out there forever."
Asked about his hopes for the final day, he replied: "I can't win from where I am as I've not made many birdies and not made enough putts, but I can make a bunch of birdies to sneak a top-10 finish."
Playing in the same group as Johnson, Rahm hit one of the worst shots of the career with a horrible low pull at the eighth. To compound matters, he then clattered the next one off a tree and into a bush.
It was a sign of his growing maturity, though, that the once volatile Spaniard shook off the resultant double-bogey 7 to claw his way back to nine-under.
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