Ahead by four in Masters, Dustin Johnson aims to avoid another final-round disappointment

Dustin Johnson holds up his ball on the 18th green after finishing the third round of the Masters on Saturday.
Dustin Johnson shot a bogey-free, seven-under 65 in the third round of the Masters and leads by four.
(Matt Slocum / Associated Press)

Even though he’s in position to win his first Masters with a four-shot lead heading into the final day, Dustin Johnson knows better than to exhale.

Ten years ago, he had a three-shot lead after three rounds of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach ... then blew up with an abysmal 82 on Sunday.

In the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, he was tied atop the leaderboard after three rounds, yet three-putted No. 18 with a chance to force a playoff.


Golf players and officials hope that allowing fans to bet on player performances and tournaments, like the Masters, will help drive engagement.

And at the PGA Championship at Harding Park in August, he went to bed Saturday night with a one-shot lead but was overtaken Sunday by Collin Morikawa.

So even though Johnson shot a bogey-free 65 on Saturday and tied the 54-hole record for the Masters, he still has to slam the door.

“If I can play like I did today, I think it will break that streak,” said Johnson, the world’s No. 1 player who missed just two greens 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.”

There’s a relentless efficiency to Johnson, who is as steady as his stoic personality. That allowed him to pull away from the traffic jam in a tournament where, at one point Saturday, nine players were tied for the lead at nine under.

Dustin Johnson hits a shot on the 18th hole during the third round of the Masters on Saturday.
(Matt Slocum / Associated Press)

After a par on the first hole Saturday, Johnson went eagle, birdie, birdie, and never looked back. The only greens he missed were the par-three 12th, where he landed on the back fringe, and No. 18, where his approach shot went right of the green. In both cases he was able to save par.

“With the conditions being soft, you can be really aggressive no matter what club you have in your hand, as long as you feel comfortable with how far you’re going to fly it,” he said. “I feel like the golf course is in really good condition just with all the rain, it’s just so soft. So you’ve got to be aggressive and you’ve got to attack the flags.”

Tied for second at 12 under are South Korea’s Sungjae Im, Australia’s Cameron Smith and Mexico’s Abraham Ancer.

“If DJ goes out there and plays really solid like today, it’s going to be pretty much impossible to catch him,” Ancer said. “Whatever has to be done out there has to be pretty special.”

Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas, the Nos. 2 and 3 players in the world, respectively, began the day in good position to take the lead, but neither could keep pace with Johnson. Thomas shot a 71 and Rahm an even-par 72.

Asked to describe his day, Rahm said: “Seriously? How would I describe? Pretty awful. … I didn’t make a single putt. No way I can be happy about it. The golf course was there for scoring, I was playing good, and couldn’t take advantage of anything. That’s all I can say.”

No one else made much of a move on a picture-perfect day. Rory McIlroy shot a 67, but he still trails Johnson by eight. Tiger Woods finished his second round at five under and remained there with a 72 in the afternoon.

It is eerily quiet at the Masters this year, since there are no galleries. And the abnormalities are affecting more than golfers would think.

Bryson DeChambeau, the big-hitting Masters favorite, completed his second round early Saturday morning with a disappointing 74. That put him at even par for the tournament, right at the cut line.

Before he started his third round — he would go on to shoot a 69 — this year’s U.S. Open winner revealed he had been dealing with an ongoing health scare.

“I was feeling something a little weird two nights ago, and I came out [Friday] and was fine for the most part,” DeChambeau said. “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.

“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 a hundred percent. Some of that’s played into it. I just feel kind of dull and numb out there, just not fully aware of everything, and making some silly, silly mistakes for sure.”