Dustin Johnson shot a 5-under 65 on Saturday at TPC Harding Park and will take a one-shot lead into Sunday’s final round of the 102nd PGA Championship.
Entering the third round four shots off the lead, Johnson got off to a terrific start with birdies on three of his first five holes. A bogey on No. 6 was offset on the very next hole with a fourth birdie, but the 36-year old star dropped two shots on the par-4 9th hole to turn in just 1-under 34.
Aided by a suddenly red-hot putter, Johnson was absolutely flawless on his inward nine, finishing with five pars and four birdies, highlighted by three gains (Nos. 14, 15, and 17) over a four-hole stretch to claim the 54-hole lead on 9-under par.
“I putted really well. That was key,” acknowledged Johnson, who gained nearly five (4.92) strokes on the field in putting. “But I hit a lot of good shots to give myself some good looks because the flags are tucked. The greens are firm and fast. So I did hit a lot of quality iron shots.
“Tomorrow I think I need to go — I definitely need to hit some more fairways, because it’s really tough playing this golf course from the rough. Obviously the bunkers, too, are very tough. A couple — had a few nice up-and-downs out of the bunkers, but also a few poor ones.”
One off the pace was the surprising twosome of Scottie Scheffler (65) and Cameron Champ (67), who sat T2 on 8-under par.
Scheffler, who leads the field in birdies with 18, credited erroneous expectations for his scoring success over the first three days.
“Coming up here, I was expecting poa annua greens, and to expect poa annua and see bent is a nice surprise because bent rolls a lot truer than poa annua, especially late in the day,” said Scheffler, 24.
“The greens are rolling nice and I think that’s why you’re seeing guys make putts. The greens are really pure, even late in the day.”
Champ, a two-time PGA Tour winner at 25, has been up and down for much of his sophomore season, but the former Texas A&M star is ready to embrace the challenge ahead.
“Obviously this is a major. You know, I’m not looking at it any other way besides, again, just going through my process,” said Champ, who entered in decent form with three top-25s, in his five starts since the reboot.
“Obviously like I said, the comfortability is there, but I’m just going to stick to it. I’m sure there will be a little bit of nerves at some point throughout the round, but again, that’s part of it. That’s what I’m looking for — looking forward to and just embrace it.”
“Coming in I made four birdies in a row, I think that helps, and then nice up-and-down on the last, so got some momentum going for tomorrow,” said An, a one-time winner on the European Tour.
One further back was the big-game hunter, Brooks Koepka (69), who was tied for fourth with Collin Morikawa (65) and Paul Casey (68) at 7-under par.
Koepka, who at one point held the solo lead after opening with two birdies and 10 pars, ran into trouble in the middle stretch of his back nine (Nos. 13-15), carding three straight bogeys, to drop off the first page of the leaderboard for the first time all week. The four-time major winner bounced back, however, with a pair of closing birdies (No. 16 and 18) to recoup two of those lost shots, and return to the first page of the board.
Afterwards, a confident Koepka boasted about his major-winning legacy heading into Sunday, noting the lack of multiple major winners atop the leaderboard.
“I think expectations. I think — I guess it does become difficult [to win a second major] if you think you’ve played good enough to win multiple ones,” said Koepka, who has claimed at least one major title per season, since 2017.
“But you’ve just got to keep putting yourself there. I’m doing a good job of that. But the second one definitely is a little bit tougher, I think, as you can see from the top of the leaderboard.”
The 30-year old star also took a shot at his good friend, Johnson, the 54-hole leader.
“I mean, I like my chances. When I’ve been in this position before, I’ve capitalized,” exclaimed Koepka. “I don’t know, he’s [Johnson] only won one. I’m playing good. I don’t know, we’ll see.”
Only three shots off the pace was a six-player logjam of big-time names, including Bryson DeChambeau (66), Tony Finau (67), Jason Day (70), Justin Rose (70), Daniel Berger (70), and Tommy Fleetwood (70).
Controversial overnight leader Haotong Li (73), collapsed down the stretch on Saturday, dropping four shots over a four-hole stretch (Nos. 13-16), to fall into a tie for 13th-place with Matthew Wolff (68), Xander Schauffele (69), Joel Dahmen (68), and Si Woo Kim (68) on 5-under par.
Hideki Matsuyama (69) was among a trio at T18 on 4-under par, one-shot clear of a nine-player logjam at T21, headlined by Jon Rahm (68), Webb Simpson (68), Patrick Cantlay (66), and Patrick Reed (69), among others.
DJ (-9) will be paired with Scheffler (-8) in Sunday’s final group, while Champ (-8) and Morikawa (-7) will comprise the penultimate pairing. Koepka (-7) will be joined by Casey (-7) in bronze grouping.
TOP 10 LEADERS
1. Dustin Johnson -9 (-5)
2. Cameron Champ -8 (-3)
2. Scott Scheffler -8 (-5)
4. Brooks Koepka -7 (-1)
4. Paul Casey -7 (-2)
4. Collin Morikawa -7 (-5)
7. Daniel Berger -6 (E)
7. Tommy Fleetwoods -6 (E)
7. Justin Rose -6 (E)
7. Jason Day -6 (E)
7. Tony Finau -6 (-3)
7. Bryson DeChambeau -6 (-4)
1. Cam Champ – 324.4 (T2)
2. Bryson DeChambeau – 317.1 (T7)
3. Rory McIlroy – 312.4 (T43)
1. Jim Herman – 29/42, 69.8% (T68)
2. Brendon Todd – 28/42, 66.7% (T21)
2. Joost Luiten – 28/42, 66.7% (T68)
1. Matthew Wolff – 43/54, 79.6% (T13)
2. Paul Casey – 40/54, 74.1% (T4)
2. Jason Day – 40/54, 74.1% (T4)
2. Keith Mitchell – 40/54, 74.1% (T30)
Putts Per GIR
1. Bryson DeChambeau – 1.515 (T7)
2. Dustin Johnson – 1.571 (1)
3. Brandt Snedeker – 1.593 (T43)
1. Scottie Scheffler – 18 (T2)
2. Dustin Johnson – 17 (1)
3. Bryson DeChambeau – 17 (T7)
Final Three Pairings
All times Eastern Standard
4:50 pm – Dustin Johnson, Scottie Scheffler
4:40 pm – Collin Morikawa, Cameron Champ
4:30 pm – Brooks Koepka, Paul Casey
Q: You’re looking for your second major title. A lot of guys who are in the thick of this are looking for their first. How much can you use that to your advantage?
DUSTIN JOHNSON: Well, yeah, I definitely have experience in this situation that definitely will help tomorrow. I’ve been in the hunt a bunch of times in a major. I’ve got one major, so having that experience is definitely going to be beneficial tomorrow.
You know, but it’s one of those things. Still going to have to go out and play really good golf. This is a tough golf course. Greens are getting really firm. They are fast. So I think the wind is going to blow again tomorrow, so it’s going to play difficult.
I look forward to the challenge, and you know, I will definitely be relying on a lot of that experience that I have.