World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, winner of the US Open in 2016, is in a good position to glean a 2nd Grand Slam title at the Augusta Masters, as he is four strokes ahead of Cameron Smith, Abraham Ancer and Sung-jae Im after the 3rd round on Saturday.
If he slows down on Sunday, other competitors may try to overtake him, such as the South African Dylan Fritelli at five lengths, world No. 3 Justin Thomas at six, or even Jon Rahm, Patrick Reed and Juan Sebastian Munoz at Seven. But for Tiger Woods, relegated to 11 strokes, it will be difficult to keep his title.
Because Johnson had a perfect Saturday, making the best card of the day -7, thanks to an eagle in the 2nd, followed by five birdies. His total of -16 after 54 holes equaled the record in this matter in Augusta, set by Jordan Spieth when he was crowned in 2015.
“I have a lot of confidence in everything I do. On Sunday, if I want to put on this green jacket, I will have to do the same because there are great players who are not far away,” said the American from 36 years old, who has the distinction of having failed to win the four times he has been leading a Major after three rounds (US Open 2010, 2015, 2018, PGA Championship 2020).
“If I play like today, I will stop this damn streak. It’s just 18 holes, I have to be solid,” he insisted.
– Unsuccessful climb of McIlroy? –
At his heels, is a surprising trio composed of the Australian Cameron Smith, 5th in the Masters in 2018, as well as the Mexican Abraham Ancer and the South Korean Sung-jae Im who are competing for the first time in this Major. The last first-time participant to have triumphed there was Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.
“I played my first practice round on Monday. I immediately felt the course suited my game and thought I would do a good job. I feel like I can keep my cool and keep doing this I did, ”said Im, who could become the second Asian to win a Grand Slam at 22, after compatriot Yong-eun Yang at the 2009 PGA Championship.
The Spaniard Jon Rahm (7th, -9) could have been part of this hunting group, he who had joined the leading peloton earlier on Saturday morning by finishing his second lap. But a double bogey in the 8th sidelined his hopes of keeping up with Johnson.
He is suddenly ahead of Rory McIlroy, in search of the only Major who escapes his record, and who continued his strong comeback by totaling -8 after a bad start (+3 Thursday). “We must remain realistic, in any case I think of winning the tournament”, nevertheless commented the Northern Irishman.
McIlroy shares 10th place with Brooks Koepka, Briton Tommy Fleetwood and Japanese Hideki Matsuyama.
– “The pains are awakening” –
As for Tiger Woods, his hopes for a 16th Grand Slam victory have somewhat vanished.
The “Tiger”, who is aiming for a 6th coronation in Augusta to equal Jack Nicklaus’ record, had started his morning rather well, nibbling a blow on the head, to close his second lap interrupted the day before because of the darkness. But 18 holes later, after two birdies and two bogeys, he could only keep his total of -5, in 20th place.
“Days so long like this make you wake up in pain. Walking all the way, I can do it, but the hard part is bending down and doing the swings,” admitted the soon-to-45-year-old star. , operated on the back several times in recent years.
Him also in poor physical condition the day before, even believing to hold the symptoms of Covid-19 before a negative test rules out his thesis, Bryson DeChambeau slightly improved his ranking, 29th Saturday with a card of 69.
As for Victor Perez, the only French competitor, he suffered. Starting at -3 at the start of his third round, he finished it at +1 and tumbled to 52nd place.