Dustin Johnson will take a four-stroke lead into the final round of the Masters Tournament after the world no.1 fired an error-free 65 at Augusta on Saturday.
Johnson, chasing his first Masters victory and his second major title, pulled away from a crowded pack to lead on 16 under par after round three. The 36-year-old American equalled the Masters’ record lowest score after 54 holes, and will break the 72-hole record if he shoots a 69 or better on Sunday.
An international group of players will be hoping to chase him down, with South Korea’s Sungjae Im, Abraham Ancer of Mexico and Australia’s Cameron Smith closest at 12 under. South Africa’s Dylan Frittelli shot a five-under 67 and is 11 under, with Justin Thomas a further stroke behind.
Johnson opened with rounds of 65 and 70 and, after a brief nine-way tie for the lead at the beginning of round three, accelerated clear with a tap-in eagle at the second hole to get to 11 under, followed by birdies at the 3rd and 4th. From there, the 2016 US open champion was almost faultless and made an up-and-down par at 18 to become the first player in Masters history with multiple rounds of 65 or less in the same tournament. He also equalled the record low score of 16 under after three rounds set by Jordan Spieth when he won it in 2015.
“I have been playing really well, I just need to get a few putts to drop,” said Johnson, who tied for second behind Tiger Woods at Augusta last year. “It was a really good day, I have been swinging well all week. Even after getting off to a good start, I tried to stay patient and be aggressive when I could. There are so many really good players around the lead, I am going to have to go out and play well if I am going to win. I have to go out and execute.”
While the immediate chasing pack is short on Major pedigree, there are several more fancied players who will rue indifferent third round efforts, notably Johnson’s playing partner, Jon Rahm, who looked to be mounting a challenge of his own, but the Spaniard’s hopes threatened to unravel after a double bogey at the par-five eighth. The world number two topped his second shot into the treeline and cannoned his next into a bush off a tree trunk. He recovered one of those shots to sit at nine under, alongside 2019 winner Patrick Reed and Columbia’s Patrick Munoz.
Justin Thomas was two under for the day as he hit the turn, but endured a mixed back nine as he traded three birdies with four bogeys in a one-under 71 finish six off the pace on 10 under in sixth place.
Rory McIlroy produced another impressive round on Saturday that will have the Northern Irishman ruing his opening round 75, after following up Friday’s 66 with a five-under-par 67. It took him to eight under, but too far back to mount a challenge to become just the sixth player to win a career Grand Slam. “I haven’t really made a good run on a Sunday here, so it’s about time. I feel good, my game is there, I have shown that over the last two days. I’ll probably need something a few lower than today, set the clubhouse target for the guys to follow.”
Tiger Woods will also not be adding to his major tally this time, with the defending champion adding a 71 and a 72 to his first round 68 to sit on five under. “I can’t win it from where I am, but I can make birdies and sweep in for a top-10 finish,” he said after playing 26 holes on Saturday. “I just need to make birdies – I haven’t made any this week. Today was a long day, but I still had my chances.”
Tommy Fleetwood is best placed of the English contingent at eight under par, with Paul Casey two strokes behind and 2016 champion Danny Willett at five under. Justin Rose’s hopes faded as he carded a four-over 76, including seven bogeys, to peg him back to three under, alongside Lee Westwood.
Bernhard Langer, who became the oldest man to make the cut at Augusta on Friday, showed he can still produce moments to savour, with the 63-year-old German holing a 63-foot birdie putt on 15 en route to a 73 and a two-under-par total.
There will be a two-tee start on Sunday, with the final three-ball teeing off at 2.29pm GMT. To check out the live leaderboard, click here.