First, the present: Johnson fired a splendid, bogey-free 65 on Saturday to get to 16 under par and take a four-shot lead over three golfers from all over the globe — South Korea’s Sungjae Im, Mexico’s Abraham Ancer and Australia’s Cameron Smith. It was the kind of round that would have elicited explosions from all corners of Augusta National Golf Club — if fans were allowed on site rather than relegated to their couches at home by the coronavirus pandemic.
Johnson, though, would be the one player who might notice neither the gallery’s presence nor its absence. His emotions generally run the gamut from “M” to “N,” his heart rate closer to a tortoise at rest than a rabbit on the run. His message to himself: He has been in this position. He just needs more of what got him here — which is the mundane (30 straight holes without a bogey) and the spectacular (a 5-iron all over the flag at the second hole that set up an eagle).
“I know what it takes,” Johnson said. “I know how I respond in this situation. I’m very comfortable with having the lead going into tomorrow. I’ve been in the situation a lot of times.”
About that: As confident and comfortable as Johnson appears this week, this territory has been trodden on before. Not at Augusta, where Johnson had never led at the end of a round before this week and where his best finish was last year’s tie for second, a shot behind Tiger Woods.
Rather, the only questions about whether Johnson can finish this off arise because of the wounds he has suffered elsewhere. Four times, he has held the lead after the third round of a major championship. Four times, he has failed to close. He has been beaten, such as over the summer at the PGA Championship at Harding Park, where he shot a perfectly fine 68 — only to have Collin Morikawa drop a 64 and beat him by two.
Could someone do that Sunday? The field is dubious. Johnson matched Jordan Spieth’s record for the lowest 54-hole total at a Masters. He’s going to blow it now?
“He’s got a four-shot lead,” said Smith, a 27-year-old playing his fourth Masters who moved into position with a bogey-free 69. “Anyone with a four-shot lead is expected to win.”
Still, Johnson knows of similar pressures. A decade ago, he led the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by three shots after three rounds and was playing much as he is now — without peer and without error. He awoke Sunday, made a triple bogey at the second hole, a double at the third — and closed with an 82, his first scar in a major.
Later that same summer of 2010, he looked to have qualified for a playoff in the PGA Championship — only to discover he had grounded his club in a bunker and would be issued a two-shot penalty. A chance to win evaporated into a tie for fifth.
Johnson three-putted. Spieth won.
Now it’s the Masters in his hands. And even with all the travails, he also knows what it’s like to close out a major. He did it at the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont — when he came back from, wouldn’t you know it, a four-shot deficit over the final 18 holes. Had Irishman Shane Lowry played well in that last round, Johnson would still be waiting for his first major victory. But Lowry shot a 76, Johnson a 69 — and the result flipped.
That’s the only way Johnson isn’t slipping on a green jacket Sunday afternoon.
“If D.J. goes out there and plays really solid like today,” said Ancer, who like Smith shot a 69 on Saturday, “it’s going to be pretty much impossible to catch him.”
Of course, “pretty much impossible” and “impossible” are wholly different things. Four players have lost a Masters lead of as many as four strokes after the first three rounds, the most recent being Rory McIlroy, who shot an 80 during an infamous collapse in 2011. But McIlroy, who remains among the sport’s elite, was just 21 and playing in only his 10th major. Johnson’s position is vastly different. He is 36, a father of two, playing in his 10th Masters, his 45th major.
“It’s definitely still a long way to go,” he said. “Still got 18 more holes left.”
They are 18 holes at the Masters that will be played in unprecedented conditions. Not only will the field go off two tees and play in threesomes — with Johnson joining Im and Ancer at 9:29 a.m. — but the players will do so with almost no fanfare. The pandemic not only pushed this Masters from April to November, but it has limited the crowds to a scant few — reporters, photographers, family of players and Augusta members.
The feel, then, has been more member-guest than Masters. Might that have an impact on the final round?
“Unfortunately, for all of us chasing D.J., there’s no fans or nothing to make that moment even harder, to have that buzz, to have the adrenaline, to have a little bit more pressure put on him,” said Justin Thomas, who stumbled out of the final group with three bogeys in his final five holes to fall to 10 under. “That won’t be there this year. . . . It makes it harder when you can hear the birdies and eagles and putts being made.”
Johnson, by this point, doesn’t much care about the reactions his shots elicit or the environment in which he might finally take a green jacket. If he plays like he has all week, that result will take care of itself. If he somehow stumbles, the record he would like to leave in the past will only grow.
The live updates below were reported by Matt Bonesteel from Washington and Svrluga in Augusta.
A look ahead to the final round of the Masters
Dustin Johnson separated himself from the Masters pack on Saturday with his 7-under-par 65, putting him four shots up on Sungjae Im, Abraham Ancer and Cameron Smith, five ahead of fifth-place Dylan Frittelli and six clear of Justin Thomas.
The last 30 golfers to don the green jacket were in the top five, at least, entering the final round.
Final-round television coverage on CBS begins at 10 a.m. Eastern, though Masters.com, the Masters app and ESPN+ will stream coverage of featured groups and featured holes starting at 7:45 a.m. Organizers hope the tournament ends some time around 3 p.m., giving CBS time to air the green jacket presentation before it switches over to its late-afternoon NFL coverage at 4 p.m.
Behold a nearly flawless Dustin Johnson
Dustin Johnson wasn’t perfect in the third round of the Masters on Saturday.
Otherwise, he put together one of the most dominant rounds in Masters history and now stands four shots clear of the leaders’ pack that counted five members (Johnson among them) when the round began. His bogey-free, 7-under-par 65 put him at 16-under 200 for the tournament, tying Jordan Spieth’s 54-hole Masters record set five years ago. A long-elusive green jacket now seems within reach.
The last second-round leader or co-leader to shoot 65 in the third round? Tiger Woods in 1997, when he won by 12 strokes.
“I feel like I’m swinging well. I got a lot of confidence in what I’m doing. Everything’s going well,” Johnson told CBS after his round. “I’m driving it well, hitting a lot of really good iron shots, so tomorrow I’ll have to go out and do the same kind of thing. There’s a lot of really good players right around me and I’m going to have to go out and play aggressive when I can and play smart when I can. …
“Today, I felt like I was in control of my game.”
Johnson’s list of third-round Masters superlatives is long. He hit all 14 fairways, recording a perfect driving record for just the second time in his career, and now has gone 30 straight holes without a bogey. He’s just the second player, along with Spieth, to reach 16 under par in the third round. And, in a measure of just how close he’s come in recent years, he now has 10 consecutive under-par rounds at Augusta, tying the Masters record set by Woods from 2000 to 2002, during his imperial era.
Woods won the Masters twice over that span. Johnson has finished among the top 10 in each of his past four Augusta appearances, with a tie for second behind Woods last year, but he has yet to don the green jacket.
It should be noted that Johnson, who recently recovered from covid-19 after testing positive for the coronavirus, also led this year’s PGA Championship after 54 holes, only to be overtaken by Collin Morikawa in the final round. But should he play as he did Saturday, that seems unlikely to happen again.
Phil Mickelson’s played like a ‘stallion’ on Friday. Augusta bucked back Saturday.
Three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson certainly was feeling it over the first two rounds of this year’s tournament, easily making the cut with a two-day score of 5-under-par 139. And the eminently quotable left-hander gave what might be the quote of the tournament so far after his round on Friday.
“I’m striking the ball exceptional, and I’m putting horrific. And if I get that fixed this weekend, I’m going to make a run,” he said.
Then he was asked about how it was going with the longer-shafted driver he’s employing this week.
“Awesome. I’m driving like a stallion,” he said.
On Saturday, Mickelson didn’t drive or do anything, really, like a stallion, his 7-over-par 79 sending him spiraling toward the bottom of the leader board.
Mickelson bogeyed the par-5 second hole, his drive finding a fairway bunker. He bogeyed the par-4 third, his drive finding the rough. He bogeyed the par-3 fourth, though his drive found the green (he three-putted after his birdie attempt went well past). He bogeyed the par-3 sixth (ditto, except he left his birdie putt short). And he bogeyed the par-4 seventh (he hit a fairway — yes! — but his approach found one of the bunkers fronting the green).
Mickelson would rebound with two birdies over the next six holes, but things went completely sideways on the par-5 15th when his drive found the right-side pine straw, his second shot hit a tree, his third (still from the pine straw) was a punch-out into the rough and his fourth skied the green and plopped into the pond behind it. A triple-bogey 8, on one of the course’s easiest holes, was the result, and Mickelson’s brash hopes were no more.
After 26-hole Saturday, Tiger Woods finishes at even par for third round
Even golfers as exceptional as Tiger Woods need a little luck now and then, and that’s exactly what Woods got at the 10th hole on Saturday when a ricochet off a loblolly pine saved his approach from going well left of the green and actually landed it on the fringe.
Woods would save par there, but he otherwise labored through his third round and appeared to be having trouble again with his notoriously fickle back. Here’s Tiger Tracker’s typically reserved observation after Woods carded one of his two birdies on the day at the par-3 12th.
Woods’s struggles immediately resumed at the par-5 13th, when he duck-hooked his approach well left of the green. The chip that followed meekly rolled on and then back off the green and his putt from the fringe barely made it on, though he was able to gut out the 10-footer for par, gingerly retrieving the ball from the cup. Then Woods even managed a birdie two holes later.
At the end of a very long day — the 44-year-old played 26 holes Saturday after finishing up his second round in the morning — Woods had carded an even-par 72 for his third round, putting him well back of the leaders and almost certainly ending any hopes of a repeat Masters title. Still, the 15-time major winner is in the midst of his best tournament performance since before the coronavirus pandemic began. Since a tie for ninth at the Farmers Insurance Open in January, Woods’s best finish has been a tie for 37th at the PGA Championship in August. He missed the cut at the U.S. Open two months ago and tied for 72nd — ahead of only three players who made the cut — at the Zozo Championship in late October.
Dustin Johnson just misses Augusta National front-nine record
Dustin Johnson has separated himself from the field at the Masters, with a three-stroke lead as of this writing, but he came up just short of joining a pretty elite club. His 5-under-par 31 on Augusta National’s front nine Saturday was one short of the record over that stretch held by five players: Johnny Miller (1975, third round), Greg Norman (fourth round, 1988), K.J. Choi (second round, 2004), Phil Mickelson (fourth round, 2009) and Gary Woodland (third round, 2014).
Johnson had a chance to tie the record on the ninth hole but his lengthy birdie putt was just off the mark.
The nine-hole record at Augusta is 29 on the back, held by Mark Calcavecchia (fourth round, 1992) and David Toms (fourth round, 1998). None of the players to hold the record on either half went on to win the tournament.
Lee Westwood also carded a 31 on the front nine this year, in the first round.
In search of career grand slam, Rory McIlroy charging up the leader board
Rory McIlroy roared out of the gate Saturday with four birdies and no bogeys over his first 10 holes, but he appeared to find some trouble at the par-3 12th when his tee shot landed in the bunker that fronts the middle hole of Amen Corner.
But when you’re running hot …
McIlroy’s sublime sand work put him at 5 under par for his round and 8 under for the tournament, four shots behind leader Dustin Johnson. The Northern Irishman is looking to complete the career grand slam in his 13th Masters appearance. He’s come close before, with five top 10 finishes, but never has been able to don the green jacket.
New solo leader Dustin Johnson simply owns Augusta No. 2
Dustin Johnson quickly separated himself from a very large pack of golfers tied for the lead in the Masters third round on Saturday, carding an eagle at the par-5 second hole to take a two-stroke advantage.
Augusta National’s second hole, a 575-yard dogleg left nicknamed “Pink Dogwood,” has historically played as one of the easiest holes on the course, reachable in two strokes for the game’s bigger hitters. That’s exactly what Johnson did Saturday, his approach landing a mere two feet from the hole.
Johnson has taken full advantage over the years: His eagle on Saturday was the fourth of his career at No. 2 and the second of this tournament alone.
Of the eight eagles recorded at No. 2 this year, Johnson alone has 25 percent of them.
Masters weekends have been a mixed bag for Cameron Smith
Of the five co-leaders entering the third round of the Masters, Australia’s Cameron Smith might be the most anonymous even though he has been a constant PGA Tour presence since 2015 and even won a tournament earlier this year at the Sony Open in Hawaii, his second career PGA Tour title. The world’s 45th-ranked golfer even has a top 10 Masters finish under his belt, with a tie for fifth in 2018.
But it hasn’t all been great for Smith on the weekend at Augusta. (He made the cut in all three of his previous appearances.) In 2016, he was seven strokes off the lead entering the third round but blew up with a 10-over-par 82 on Saturday, losing 6.28 strokes to the field. (That’s golf-nerd speak for an awful round.) Last year, Smith again was seven strokes off the lead entering the third round, but this time the collapse waited until Round 4: He shot a 77 on Sunday, losing 5.54 strokes to the field.
In Smith’s one good Masters weekend, 2018, he was eight strokes back after the second round but shot a combined 8 under par on Saturday and Sunday to finish six strokes behind winner Patrick Reed.
Smith said Friday that any experience is a good thing at the Masters.
“It’s obviously good to be in contention on a weekend, and I feel like I’ve been there enough where I can have a good crack at it,” he told reporters.
Tiger Woods is looking to replicate Jack Nicklaus. Literally.
Tiger Woods has made the cut in his search for a sixth green jacket, and he’s even par through three holes of the third round to remain four strokes behind the leaders.
But check out the coincidences between Woods this year and Jack Nicklaus in 1986, when he won Masters title No. 6.
It’s not complete symmetry. Nicklaus was 46 when he won his final Masters title, and he hadn’t won a PGA Tour event in nearly two years when he earned the green jacket in 1986. Woods is 44 and last won a title a little more than a year ago at the Zozo Championship in Japan.
Here are the Masters third-round tee times
Third-round pairings have been announced at the Masters. The 60 remaining players hit the course in threesomes off two tees, with the final group going off one minute before noon.
PGA Tour threesomes generally need five hours to complete their rounds and the sun will set in Augusta at about 5:30 p.m. Eastern, so this should get the tournament back on schedule after Thursday’s rain created delays that lasted into Saturday.
(*) denotes a back-nine start.
10:20 a.m.: John Augenstein (a), Bernhard Langer, Rory McIlroy
*10:20 a.m.: Victor Perez, Charles Howell III, Kevin Na
10:31 a.m.: Webb Simpson, Jazz Janewattananond, Xander Schauffele
*10:31 a.m.: Si Woo Kim, Shugo Imahira, Adam Scott
10:42 a.m.: Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler, Billy Horschel
*10:42 a.m.: Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Cameron Champ, Marc Leishman
10:53 a.m.: Corey Conners, Scottie Scheffler, Paul Casey
*10:53 a.m.: Brandt Snedeker, Lee Westwood, Matt Wallace
11:04 a.m.: Louis Oosthuizen, Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka
*11:04 a.m.: Chez Reavie, Bubba Watson, Bernd Wiesberger
11:15 a.m.: Justin Rose, Sebastián Muñoz, Dylan Frittelli
*11:15 a.m.: Shane Lowry, Andy Ogletree (a), Ian Poulter
11:26 a.m.: Patrick Reed, Danny Willett, Tommy Fleetwood
*11:26 a.m.: Mike Weir, Nick Taylor, Sung Kang
11:37 a.m.: Sungjae Im, C.T. Pan, Hideki Matsuyama
*11:37 a.m.: Collin Morikawa, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Zach Johnson
11:48 a.m.: Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Patrick Cantlay
*11:48 a.m.: Jimmy Walker, Bryson DeChambeau, Tony Finau
11:59 a.m.: Abraham Ancer, Cameron Smith, Justin Thomas
*11:59 a.m.: Charl Schwartzel, Jordan Spieth, Rafael Cabrera Bello
Want to pick a Masters winner after two rounds? Don’t go too far down the leader board.
Two rounds at the Masters (finally) are in the books, with 60 players at even par or better qualifying for the weekend.
We still have no idea who’s going to win this thing, obviously, but we can narrow down the contenders based on recent history. As noted by Justin Ray, 19 of the last 21 Masters winners were within four shots of the lead after the second round, and no Masters winner has been worse than a tie for 12th after the second round since Jack Nicklaus memorably won his sixth green jacket in 1986. (Nicklaus was tied for 17th, six strokes behind leader Seve Ballesteros after two rounds.)
· The players ranked Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in the world (co-leaders Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas)
· Four former Masters champions: Patrick Reed (2018, one stroke back), Danny Willett (2016, two shots back), Tiger Woods (five titles, four shots back) and Phil Mickelson (three green jackets, also four strokes behind).
· Three other grand slam winners: Justin Rose (7 under), Louis Oosthuizen (6 under), Brooks Koepka (5 under).
It should be noted that even though the nine players at 6 under and 5 under are within four shots of the lead, those players are tied for 14th and 17th place, respectively. Should the winner come from that group, they would be the lowest-ranked player after the second round to win since Nicklaus in 1986.
Masters second round ends with large group within striking distance
Five golfers — Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Justin Thomas, Abraham Ancer and Cameron Smith — are tied for the lead after 36 holes of the Masters at 9 under par, with five more one shot back and another three at 7 under. No Masters has ever seen more players tied for the lead after 36 holes.
Johnson, Rahm and Thomas are ranked 1-2-3 in the Official World Golf Rankings, the first time such a trio has been tied for the lead after the second round of any major.
The third round is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. Eastern. Television coverage of the Masters will resume at 1 p.m. Eastern on CBS, though Masters.com, the Masters app and ESPN+ will provide streaming coverage throughout the morning.
World No. 10 Patrick Cantlay, 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed, 2016 Masters champion Danny Willett and 2013 U.S. Open winner Justin Rose are among the golfers within two strokes of the lead.
Five-time Masters champion Tiger Woods is four shots off the lead after his 1-under-par 71 in the second round. Three-time winner Phil Mickelson is in the same position.
Sixty players made the cut at even par, including U.S. Open champion and pretournament favorite Bryson DeChambeau, who landed right on the number.
The full leader board can be found here.
Bryson DeChambeau says he’s not feeling well but tested negative for coronavirus
U.S. Open champion and Masters betting favorite Bryson DeChambeau will have about an hour of sweating ahead of him Saturday after his 18th-hole bogey put him at even par for the Masters through 36 holes, right on a cut line that has been bouncing between even and 1 under Saturday morning.
After his round, DeChambeau told reporters that he wasn’t feeling well but had tested negative for the coronavirus on Friday night.
“I was feeling something a little weird [starting] two nights ago, and I came out yesterday and was fine for the most part. And as I kept going through the round I started to get a little dizzy. I don’t know what was going on, something weird,” he said. “So I got checked for covid last night and I was fine, 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 the last couple of days I’ve felt really, really odd and not 100 percent, so a little bit of that has played into it. I just feel a little dull. I’m out there just not fully aware of everything. I made some silly, silly mistakes, for sure.”
DeChambeau’s bogey moved the cut line back to even par, with 59 golfers at that score. (The top 50 and ties make the cut at the Masters.)
DeChambeau likely would not have been in this precarious position had he not lost his ball in the rough on an errant tee shot at the third hole on Friday. He settled for a triple bogey on the hole. The ball eventually was found as he was putting on the hole, too late for it to matter.
Jon Rahm joins the party at the top of the Masters leader board
Jon Rahm wasted little time as his second round resumed Saturday morning, making the short birdie putt at the par-5 13th hole that he left himself when darkness ended play Friday. With the putt, Rahm joined the Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Abraham Ancer and Cameron Smith atop the leader board at 9 under par, and he remained with the leading group after finishing with a 6-under-par 66 in the second round.
Rahm looked to be in a bit of trouble two holes later at the par-5 15th when his approach flew the green and his chip didn’t make it back up the hill. But he recovered nicely with his second chip to save par and remain with the leaders.
Rahm’s ascendancy means that the top three players in the Official World Golf Rankings are among those tied for the lead. Rahm is No. 2, while Johnson is No. 1 and Thomas is No. 3. Should that hold up at the end of the second round, it will be the first time the world’s top three golfers share the lead after two rounds at a major