US Masters: Sublime Dustin Johnson has green jacket in sight
Rory McIlroy raced his way up the leaderboard but world No1 looks to be cruising
Dustin Johnson putts on the 18th green during the third round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia. Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
World number one Dustin Johnson will take a commanding lead into the final round of the Masters after producing a record-equalling performance at Augusta National.
Johnson fired an eagle and five birdies in a flawless third round of 65 to finish 16 under par, matching the 54-hole scoring record set by Jordan Spieth in 2015.
Australia’s Cameron Smith, Mexico’s Abraham Ancer and Korea’s Sungjae Im are Johnson’s nearest challengers on 12 under par, with Ancer and Im attempting to become the first players to win the green jacket on their tournament debut since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.
Rory McIlroy, after following a first round 75 with a stunning 66 in the second round, continued his good play on Saturday by racing through the first 10 holes in four under par.
At the tough Par 3 12th McIlroy found the front bunker but holed out from there for another birdie to move within two of the tie for second place. However, a three-putt bogey at the 13th and a second shot into the water at the Par 5 15th – although he did get up and down to save par – slowed his run. Another birdie would follow at the 16th and McIlroy would sign for a round of 67. But, at eight under and eight behind Johnson, it looks like the 31-year-old’s latest quest at the elusive green jacket will prove fruitless again.
Shane Lowry – starting on the 10th after making the cut by one shot – carded his round of the week with a 68 to get to five under with one round to play.
Johnson would be the first world number one to win the Masters since Tiger Woods in 2002 but is 0-4 when leading or sharing the lead after 54 holes in a major championship.
The 36-year-old took a three-shot lead into the final round of the US Open at Pebble Beach in 2010 but collapsed to a closing 82, while five years later he three-putted from 12 feet on the 72nd hole at Chambers Bay to finish a shot behind Spieth.
Johnson finally secured his first major title in the 2016 US Open despite being handed a one-shot penalty in the final round, but fell from tied first to eighth at Shinnecock Hills two years later and failed to convert a one-shot lead in August’s US PGA Championship.
“I’ve just got to go out and execute,” Johnson said. “I’ve got a game plan that I’m going to stick to and hopefully I can shoot a nice number.”
The top three players in the world had been part of a tie for the lead for the first time in major championship history after the completion of the delayed second round, with Johnson, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas joined on nine under par by Ancer and Smith.
With defending champion Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson just four off the lead and the entire field separated by nine shots, the stage was set for a Saturday shootout and it was an inspired Johnson who came out firing.
After four of his rivals birdied the par-five second to make it an incredible nine-way tie for the lead, Johnson almost holed his second shot to the same hole for an albatross before tapping in for the easiest of eagles.
Johnson also birdied the third, fourth, seventh, 13th and 15th as his biggest rivals faltered. Rahm topped his second shot on the eighth and hit a tree with his next on his way to a double-bogey seven, while Thomas bogeyed three of the last five holes to fall six behind.
“I’ve been playing well and I just needed to get a few putts to drop,” Johnson, who has not finished worse than sixth in his six starts either side of testing positive for Covid-19, added on Sky Sports.
“It was a really good day, I know if I can just get it in the fairway I’m going to give myself a lot of good chances at birdie. There’s so many really good players around the lead I’m going to have to go out and play well if I want to win.
“The game’s in good shape so I’m very confident in what I’m doing so tomorrow hopefully you’ll see a lot of what you did today.”
Rahm’s 72 left him seven shots off the pace, with Tommy Fleetwood another stroke behind following rounds of 67 and 71 respectively.
Former champion Danny Willett and Justin Rose had started the third round alongside Fleetwood on seven under par, but shot 74 and 76 respectively while Woods is five under after a 72.
Sixty players had made the halfway cut on level par, with pre-tournament favourite Bryson DeChambeau surviving by the skin of his teeth after dropping shots on the last two holes in a second round of 74.
The US Open champion said he had been feeling unwell and dizzy during Friday’s play and underwent a Covid-19 test, which came back negative.
“As I kept going through the round I started getting a little dizzy. I don’t know what was going on, a little something weird,” said DeChambeau, who bounced back with a 69 in round three.
“So I got checked for Covid last night and I was fine, nothing. But I had to do the right thing and make sure there was nothing more serious than that.
“I don’t know what it is or what happened, but these past couple days I’ve felt really, really odd and just not 100 per cent. I just feel kind of dull and numb out there, just not fully aware of everything, and making some silly, silly mistakes for sure.”
Collated third round scores & totals in The Masters, Augusta National GC, Augusta, Georgia, USA (USA unless stated, par 72):
200 Dustin Johnson 65 70 65
204 Abraham Ancer (Mex) 68 67 69, Cameron Smith (Aus) 67 68 69, Sungjae Im (Kor) 66 70 68
205 Dylan Frittelli (Rsa) 65 73 67
206 Justin Thomas 66 69 71
207 Jon Rahm (Spa) 69 66 72, Sebastian Munoz (Col) 70 68 69, Patrick Reed 68 68 71
208 Brooks Koepka 70 69 69, Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn) 68 68 72, Rory McIlroy (NIrl) 75 66 67, Tommy Fleetwood (Eng) 71 66 71
209 Patrick Cantlay 70 66 73
210 Kevin Na 73 68 69, Cheng-Tsung Pan (Tai) 70 66 74, Paul Casey (Eng) 65 74 71, Cameron Champ 68 74 68, Corey Conners (Can) 74 65 71
211 Scottie Scheffler 71 68 72, Tiger Woods 68 71 72, Xander Schauffele 67 73 71, Shane Lowry (Irl) 74 69 68, Danny Willett (Eng) 71 66 74, Webb Simpson 67 73 71
212 Matt Wallace (Eng) 69 73 70, Marc Leishman (Aus) 70 72 70, Billy Horschel 70 70 72
213 Charl Schwartzel (Rsa) 73 71 69, Adam Scott (Aus) 70 72 71, Justin Rose (Eng) 67 70 76, Bryson DeChambeau 70 74 69, Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa) 68 70 75, Nick Taylor (Can) 72 72 69, Lee Westwood (Eng) 68 74 71
214 Bernhard Langer (Ger) 68 73 73, Bubba Watson 74 69 71, (a) Andy Ogletree 73 70 71, Si Woo Kim (Kor) 70 71 73, Shugo Imahira (Jpn) 72 70 72, Mike Weir (Can) 71 72 71, Ian Poulter (Eng) 72 71 71, Collin Morikawa 70 74 70
215 Tony Finau 69 75 71, Jazz Janewattananond (Tha) 69 71 75, Sung Kang (Kor) 75 69 71, Rickie Fowler 70 70 75, Chez Reavie 71 72 72, Charles Howell III 71 70 74
216 (a) John Augenstein 69 72 75, Christiaan Bezuidenhout (Rsa) 69 73 74
217 Zach Johnson 73 71 73, Victor Perez (Fra) 70 71 76, Jordan Spieth 74 70 73, Matthew Fitzpatrick (Eng) 74 70 73
218 Phil Mickelson 69 70 79, Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Spa) 73 71 74
220 Jimmy Walker 71 73 76
221 Bernd Wiesberger (Aut) 71 72 78, Brandt Snedeker 71 71 79