SAN FRANCISCO — Dustin Johnson lost his yardage book and still found his way through an enormous crowd of contenders Saturday at TPC Harding Park, making eight birdies for a 5-under-par 65 and a one-shot lead entering the final round of the PGA Championship.
Nothing ever comes easily for Johnson in the majors. In this case, his brother had a spare yardage book. Even without that assist, though, there might have been no way to stop Johnson from making his most birdies in any round of a major.
And he needed them all.
Johnson was one of eight players who had at least a share of the lead at some point during a wild Saturday of low scores, long putts and endless possibilities.
One of those is Brooks Koepka hoisting the Wanamaker Trophy for the third straight year, a feat that hasn't been accomplished since Walter Hagen won four in a row in the 1920s when the format was match play. Koepka was one shot behind when he made a few careless mistakes, ran off three straight bogeys and had to birdie the 18th for a 69 to stay within two shots, tied for fourth with Collin Morikawa (65) and England's Paul Casey (68).
Confident as ever, Koepka stole a glance at the leading contenders and quickly measured what he has that they don't — specifically, four major championships, with his other two back-to-back U.S. Open titles (2017-18). Not even seeing the 54-hole lead belonging to Johnson at 9-under 201 bothered him.
"When I've been in this position before, I've capitalized. He's only won one," Koepka said of Johnson, the 2016 U.S. Open champion. "I'm playing good. I don't know, we'll see."
Of the top six on the leaderboard, Johnson and Koepka — both former No. 1 players in the Official World Golf Ranking — are the only major champions.
Scottie Scheffler, a PGA Tour rookie from Texas, ran off three straight birdies only to miss a six-foot par putt on the final hole. He still shot a 65 and was one shot behind, in the final group at his first PGA Championship. Cameron Champ, a Sacramento native who has the most powerful swing on tour, shot a 67 and was tied with Scheffler for second.
For all the chances Johnson has had, this is only the second time he has led going into the final round of one of golf's biggest four events. The other was down the coast at Pebble Beach Golf Links, his first chance at winning a major. He had a three-shot lead in the 2010 U.S. Open and closed with an 82.
Now he is more seasoned, with experiences both good (21 PGA Tour victories) and bad (five close calls in the majors).
"I'm going to have to play good golf if I want to win. It's simple," Johnson said. "I've got to hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens. If I can do that tomorrow, I'm going to have a good chance coming down the stretch. ... I'm just going to have to do what I did today. Just get it done."
Among the cast of contenders are major champions such as Koepka, Jason Day (2015 PGA Championship) and Justin Rose (2013 U.S. Open), and fresh faces such as Champ, Morikawa and Scheffler. Also right there was deep-driving Bryson DeChambeau, thanks to a 95-foot putt for birdie on his last hole.
Turns out he can hit long putts, too. DeChambeau (66) was tied for seventh at 6 under with Daniel Berger (70), Day (70), Tony Finau (67), Tommy Fleetwood (70) and Rose (70).
Missing from all this action is Tiger Woods, who didn't make a birdie until the 16th hole Saturday and is out of the mix for the fourth straight major since his emotional victory last year at Augusta National for his fifth Masters title.
Not quite out of it was Li Haotong, who on Friday became the first player from China to lead after any round at a major — and was leading through 12 holes Saturday until his tee shot didn't come down from a tree. He made a double bogey, dropped two more shots on the way to a 73 and was four out of the lead, tied for 13th with Joel Dahmen (68), Si Woo Kim (68), Xander Schauffele (69) and Matthew Wolff (68).
Keith Mitchell (68) was tied for 30th at 2 under for the best standing of the three Baylor School graduates in the field, with Harris English (69) another shot back and sharing 34th and Luke List (70) tied for 52nd at 1 over.
As for his missing yardage book, Johnson thinks it slipped into the bottom of the golf bag, and he didn't feel like dumping his 14 clubs all over the ground to find it. Austin, his brother and caddie, came to the rescue with a spare.
Johnson shot his 65 even with a double bogey on the ninth hole. Mistakes like that might be more costly on Sunday with so many players in the mix, including some — Berger, Fleetwood, Rose — who struggled in the third round.
Adding to the drama will be the lack of atmosphere, this being the first major without spectators. Casey said he still didn't feel nerves from the lack of people, something PGA Tour regulars have had time to get to used to in the nearly two months since competition resumed amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Perhaps that void helps with younger players in the hunt for the first time. It also could make it difficult for players to know what's happening around them without any cheers.
Then again, Johnson won the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club without knowing the score as the United States Golf Association tried to decide whether he should be penalized for a potential rules violation earlier in the final round. He had to play the last seven holes without knowing his score.
It's just one example of what he has endured in the majors. There was a penalty that knocked him out of a playoff in the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits for grounding his club in sand without realizing it was a bunker. He had a 12-foot eagle putt to win the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, only to three-putt for par and a silver medal.
Now he's back for another shot, and his game looks to be in order.
He has the power, and on this day, he had the putting.
"I definitely have experience in this situation that definitely will help tomorrow," Johnson said. "I've been in the hunt a bunch of times in a major. I've got one major. ... Still going to have to go out and play really good golf."