Dustin Johnson had one arm in the Green Jacket after charging to a four-shot lead with a magnificent third round at the Masters on Saturday.Ten players were within one stroke starting the round, but Johnson was a class apart, in control of every facet of his game as he broke clear after almost holing his approach shot for a tap-in eagle at the par-five second.
He did not really miss a green until the final hole, where for the only time all day he was forced to call upon his deft short game to save par.
Johnson matched Jordan Spieth’s record low Masters total for the first 54 holes — 16-under-par 200 — while South Korean Im Sung-jae (68), Mexican Abraham Ancer (69) and Australian Cameron Smith (69) were equal second on 12-under.
“I am swinging well, got a lot of confidence in what I’m doing,” said the American. “I was in control of my game, hit a lot of really good shots right where I was looking.
“Tomorrow I’m going to have to do the same kind of thing. I’m still going to have to play a really good round if I want to put on the Green Jacket.”
Only two players have surrendered a bigger 54-hole lead at the Masters — Greg Norman (six shots) in 1996 and Ed Sneed (five shots) in 1979.
Rory McIlroy (2011) and Ken Venturi (1956) could not close the deal with four-stroke cushions.
For all his talent, world number one Johnson has only one major title to his credit, the 2016 U.S. Open, a disappointing haul for a player with all the physical attributes necessary for greatness.
A joint runner-up to Tiger Woods here last year, he will be taking nothing for granted on Sunday, but the final major of an unusual 2020 season is his to win or lose.
Seemingly fully recovered from a recent bout of the novel coronavirus, Johnson displayed mastery of his trusty power fade off the tee and was in supreme distance control with his irons, a trusty putter the cherry on the cake.
Johnson’s performance eliminated the chances of many, including Tiger Woods, who started the round four behind but took 12 holes to record his first birdie.
A 72 that left the 15-times major champion 11 strokes adrift, a sixth Masters title a bridge too far.
World number two Jon Rahm was another who had no answer to Johnson’s brilliance.
The Spaniard shared the halfway lead with Johnson, Thomas, Ancer and Smith, but came unglued at the par-five eighth.
He ran up a double-bogey after his third shot struck a tree and ricocheted into an unplayable lie in a bush.
Though Rahm fought back for a respectable 72, he trailed Johnson by seven shots.
Earlier on Saturday he was among 48 players who resumed the second round at 7.30 am as the tournament played catch-up after Thursday’s long break for bad weather.
Pre-tournament favourite Bryson DeChambeau (74) made the cut with nothing to spare and then revealed he had been feeling “weird” and took a coronavirus test on Friday night as a precaution. It came back negative.
DeChambeau added a 69 in the third round, his hopes of adding a Masters win to his U.S. Open title having disappeared.
What started out with a morning chill in the air gave way to bright sunshine and pleasant November warmth in this unique spectator-free event being played for the first time in autumn. (Reuters)