Dustin Johnson on cusp of winning his first Masters after second 65 Saturday
Dustin Johnson has one arm in that elusive green jacket, thanks to a record-tying pace that has staked him to a four-shot lead with one more test to go in the Masters Tournament.
Little has gone as expected in the 84th Masters, from a date change to no patrons due to COVID-19 – except for the play of Johnson, the world’s No. 1-ranked player.
Johnson has been a constant presence in the past four Masters he’s played, finishing in the top-10 each year, including a runner-up finish in 2019. But he has yet to slip on a green jacket.
That could happen Sunday for the long-hitter from Irmo, S.C., which is about an hour’s drive from Augusta.
“It's definitely still a long way to go,” Johnson said. “Still got 18 more holes left. But I mean, it would mean a lot. What a great event; it's the Masters, a major. I grew up right down the road. So this one would be very special to me.”
Johnson shot 7-under-par 65 on Saturday to move to 16-under 200 through three rounds. That ties the 54-hole Masters record set by Jordan Spieth in 2015, who also led by four. Spieth went to tie Tiger Woods’ tournament record of 18-under 270 with his victory.
Johnson also opened this tournament with 65, making him the first player with multiple rounds of 65 or below in the same Masters. He shot a second-round 70 and was in a four-way tie for the lead after 36 holes but started separating himself from the field early on Saturday. He didn’t have a bogey, as was the case in Thursday’s 65.
Johnson’s play is a continuation of his last few months. He has finished no worse than sixth in his past seven starts, including victories in the Tour Championship and the Northern Trust. In September, he won the FedEx Cup and was named PGA Tour player of the year.
“Obviously coming in here and playing well, I've got a lot of confidence in what I'm doing, and I think the conditions have definitely made scoring a little bit more favorable,” Johnson said.
The only thing that has slowed down Johnson this year is COVID-19. He missed two tournaments – the CJ Cup in Las Vegas, which started on Oct. 15, and the following week’s Zozo Championship -- after testing positive. He returned last week to tie for second place in the Houston Open. He needs one more strong round to become a Masters champion.
“There are a lot of really good players right around me,” Johnson said. “I’m still going to have to put together another good round if I want put on that green jacket.”
None of those players, however, have a resume like Johnson. He’s won 23 times on the PGA Tour. The three players closet to him – Sungjae Im (68 on Saturday), Abraham Ancer (69) and Cameron Smith (69) – have combined to win two PGA Tour stroke play events. Smith and Im have won once each while Ancer, a Masters rookie, is seeking his first win.
The only major championship winner among those within six shots of Johnson is Justin Thomas. The 2017 PGA Championship winner is six back after a 71 that included a bogey on the 18th hole.
Golfers seven shots back include 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed, who had 71. Also seven back are Sebastian Munoz (69) and Jon Rahm (72).
Johnson, Im and Ancer will go off in the final group off No. 1 at 9:29 a.m.
The more shots Johnson has in his back pocket the better going into the final round. He has struggled with 54-hole leads in majors, where he is 0-for-4 at converting a lead into a victory. The latest came in August’s PGA Championship, which he led by one shot but was overtaken by Collin Morikawa, who closed with 64. Johnson had 68.
“If I can play like I did today, I’m think I can break that streak,” Johnson said. “I’m looking forward to the challenge. I know it’s going to be a tough day.”
He has a recent track record in the Masters that is better than anyone, except he doesn’t have a win.
Johnson’s the only player in the field to be in top 10 in the Masters every year he played since 2015. He tied for sixth in 2015, tied for fourth in 2016, missed 2017 with a back injury suffered on the eve of the tournament when he was the hottest player in the game, tied for 10th in 2018 and was a runner-up last year.
Johnson was 4 under for his first five holes on Saturday, highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 second hole, where he knocked his second shot within 3 feet of the hole. He had five birdies to go with the eagle, giving him 14 birdies for the week and two eagles.
“I got off to a great start and continued it the rest of the day,” said Johnson, who is leading the field in greens in regulation (47 of 54) and is sixth in driving distance at 308.9 yards.