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World number one Johnson seizes command at PGA Tour Championship

Johnson fired a six-under par 64 and seized a five-stroke lead after Sunday’s third round.

Image: David John Griffin

WORLD NUMBER ONE Dustin Johnson rediscovered his driving form to fire a six-under par 64 and seize a five-stroke lead after Sunday’s third round of the US PGA Tour Championship.

The 36-year-old American is chasing his first PGA playoff crown and third victory since the tour returned from a three-month coronavirus shutdown in June, standing on 19-under after 54 holes at East Lake in Atlanta.

“I’m playing well. The game is in good form,” Johnson said. “Tomorrow I control my own destiny. If I go out and shoot a good score, I’ll be hard to beat.”

Johnson found 11 fairways on Sunday, blasting his tee shots beyond 300 yards to set up seven birdies, after matching a career low Saturday despite finding only two fairways to stand last in driving accuracy.

“I was just a little off with the swing. It was a pretty easy fix and obviously drove it a lot better,” Johnson said. “I just worked on the setup and my start lines a little bit better. The shape was there. I needed to execute.

“I was practically hitting it on a string.”

Johnson, a 22-time PGA winner, could become the first overall point leader since 2009 to win the season-ending showdown for a $15 million (12.6 million euro) playoff prize.

He began the week on 10-under thanks to his season points edge. Spain’s second-ranked Jon Rahm was next on 8-under with third-ranked Justin Thomas on 7-under and others up to 10 shots adrift in the staggered start system.

PGA Championship runner-up Johnson, who won two weeks ago in Boston and lost a playoff last week to Rahm, has his fourth consecutive 54-hole lead — the first player with such a streak since Tiger Woods in 1999 — with compatriots Thomas and Xander Schauffele second on 14-under.

“It’s hard to force it here,” said Schauffele. “You have to let the birdies come to you. I’m going to be as patient as possible to fight back.”

Rahm was another stroke back after shooting 66 following a second-round 74.

“I’m going to have to shoot 5- or 6- under and have him have a bad day,” Rahm said. “That’s a lot of shots to make up.”

PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa holed out a 47-foot bunker shot to open with a birdie and birdied five of the last seven holes to stand fifth on 12-under.

Fellow American Daniel Berger, who birdied the last three holes to shoot 64, was sixth on 10-under alongside South Korea’s Im Sung-jae, who began the day one stroke behind Johnson but shot 72.

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- Johnson stays on top -
Johnson began Sunday with a one-shot lead on Im and pulled away quickly, his 312-yard opening drive into the middle of the fairway setting a tone for the day.

A birdie at the third, after dropping his approach inside five feet, put Johnson on 14-under and ahead by three shots, Im falling back with three consecutive bogeys.

Thomas charged after a bogey at four and a 30-foot par putt at five with an eagle at the par-5 sixth, blasting out of the rough from 20 feet into the hole, and a birdie at seven from just inside 10 feet to reach 13-under, one off the lead.

Johnson dropped his approach inches from the cup at seven and tapped in for birdie to reach 15-under.

An approach to just inside seven feet set up a birdie by Johnson at the par-3 ninth after Thomas had made bogey there, sending Johnson to the back nine at 16-under with a four-stroke advantage.

Johnson made it back-to-back birdies and three in four holes by sinking a 20-foot birdie putt at the 10th to reach 17-under, briefly boosting his edge to five strokes.

The margin slid to three quickly as Johnson made his first bogey at the par-3 11th and Schauffele sank a birdie putt at 12 from 20 feet to reach 13-under.

Johnson, however, answered with a 24-foot birdie putt at 12 and a 16-foot birdie putt at 14 to reach 18-under and restore his five-stroke advantage.

At the par-3 15th, Johnson blasted from a bunker to five feet and saved par and parred twice more before closing with a nine-foot birdie putt, matching Thomas and Schauffele.

© – AFP 2020  

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