ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
AP photo by David J. Phillip / Dustin Johnson watches his second shot on the 11th hole at Augusta National Golf Club during the third round of the Masters on Saturday. Johnson made an eagle and two birdies in his first four holes as he took control of the tournament on his way to tying the 54-hole record at 16-under-par 200.

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Dustin Johnson began his assault on Augusta National Golf Club with a 5-iron shot for a tap-in eagle Saturday afternoon, and he never relented until he matched the 54-hole record at the Masters and built a four-stroke lead to put himself in prime position for another major championship.

Johnson has been in this type of situation before, and he plans to lean on his experience.

Not from the 82 he shot at Pebble Beach Golf Links in the final round of the 2010 U.S. Open. Not the three-putt from 12 feet on a bumpy 18th green at Chambers Bay that cost him in the 2015 U.S. Open. Not his final round at Shinnecock Hills in the 2018 U.S. Open, when a scattering of bogeys kept him from gaining ground in a four-way battle. Not even the one-shot advantage he lost three months ago at Harding Park in the PGA Championship.

All four times he had at least a share of the 54-hole lead in a major without converting.

No, he's talking about the last three days in Augusta. It's been a masterful performance.

"If I can play like I did today, I think it will break that streak," Johnson said Saturday. "Tomorrow, it's just 18 holes of golf. I need to go out and play solid. I feel like I'm swinging really well. If I can just continue to give myself a lot of looks at birdie, I think I'll have a good day."

A third round that began with 10 players separated by one shot turned into a one-man show.

The No. 1 player in the Official World Golf Ranking looked every bit the part with a 7-under-par 65, pulling away with the eagle and two birdies in the opening four holes, nearly holing a wedge shot from the seventh fairway, handling the par 5s on the back nine with two-putt birdies and going the last 30 holes without a bogey.

Johnson was at 16-under 200, matching the 54-hole record Jordan Spieth set in 2015 when he won the Masters by four shots over Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose.

The cast of challengers are not nearly as experienced. Two of them are Masters rookies. Sungjae Im, the supreme ball-striker from South Korea who won his first PGA Tour title two weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down golf in the spring, birdied the last hole for 68. Abraham Ancer of Mexico saved par on the 18th for a 69.

Joining them at 12-under 204 was Cameron Smith of Australia, who had 12 straight pars before running off three straight birdies and then closing with three scrambling pars for a 69.

"He's been there before multiple times, and No. 1 in the world," Ancer said. "I think he's right where he wants to be. We know that we have to go low, and that's it. It's very simple. If D.J. goes out there and plays really solid like today, it's going to be pretty much impossible to catch him. Whatever has to be done out there has to be pretty special."

some text
AP photo by Chris Carlson / Dustin Johnson waves after putting on the 10th hole during the third round of the Masters on Saturday in Augusta, Ga. Johnson shot a 65 and took a four-stroke lead into the final round as he seeks a second major championship to go with his 2016 U.S. Open title.

Still, there is enormous pressure on Johnson because of his history. He has not converted two 54-hole leads, nor has he won at two majors where he shared the 54-hole lead. The 36-year-old with 23 PGA Tour victories won his only major title in the 2016 U.S. Open, when he rallied from four shots behind at Oakmont Country Club.

"Anyone with a four-shot lead is expected to win," Smith said. "There's going to be plenty of boys firing tomorrow."

Attacking flags is what Augusta National has allowed in November, with rain earlier in the week and warm, calm conditions that have kept the turf soft and vulnerable.

Johnson, who had to sit out two tournaments after testing positive for the coronavirus a month ago, still came into the Masters with impressive numbers this calendar year. Among the highlights are three tournament victories — including the Tour Championship to win the FedEx Cup — three runner-up finishes and a tie for sixth at the U.S. Open in September.

"I'm very comfortable with having the lead going into tomorrow. I've been in this situation a lot of times," said Johnson, who tied for second at the Masters last year. "I'm looking forward to the challenge. It's still going to be a tough day. I'm going to have to play well if I want to get it done."

Second-ranked Jon Rahm and No. 3 Justin Thomas had their chances Saturday, only to make untimely mistakes. Rahm, the young Spanish star who has spent time this year at No. 1, nearly topped his second shot on the par-5 eighth, which he attributed to mud on his golf ball. He hit his next one off a tree and into the bushes on his way to a double bogey.

Thomas sailed his second shot over the 15th green and into the water, making bogey on a par 5 where he was hoping to make up ground. Both bogeyed the 18th hole. Thomas shot a 71, Rahm had a 72.

Asked to describe his day, Rahm didn't mince words.

"Seriously? How would I describe? Pretty awful," he said.

Starting times for the final round have been moved up to finish by 3 p.m. so CBS can honor its NFL contract, and it will be threesomes off both tees. It's unusual for the Masters, but so is playing in the fall instead of in April — and doing so without the famed galleries of patrons, another adjustment due to the pandemic.

Sunday afternoon will be just as quiet as the rest of the tournament, the roars missed by some but maybe not all.

"Unfortunately for all of us chasing D.J.," Thomas said, "there's no fans or nothing to make that moment even harder, to have the buzz, to have the adrenaline, to have a little bit more pressure put on him that won't be there this year."

Tiger Woods, who won the previous Masters in April 2019, will stick around to present the green jacket, and the five-time winner will have to leave his at Augusta National until he returns.

Woods was 4 under through 10 holes to start the Masters, and he picked up only one more shot over the next 44 holes. He finished off a 71 in the second round Saturday morning, had a 72 in the third and was 11 shots behind.

U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau was more dizzy than sore. He felt so odd Thursday night that he had another COVID-19 test to be sure — it came back negative — and the betting favorite of this Masters was in the middle of the pack, 13 shots behind.

The scoring has been low throughout. The 36-hole cut Saturday morning was at par 144, the lowest in Masters history, another update to the club's record book.

Still in front of Johnson is a chance to set the 72-hole record. All he cares about is a green jacket, and given his past experience, he knows better than to look ahead.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT