PGA TOUR Release, 20 April 2019: Dustin Johnson, known for length off the tee, showed off his precise ball-positioning and hot putter Saturday to take the RBC Heritage lead.
Johnson shot a 3-under 68 for a one-shot lead over Shane Lowry, Ian Poulter and Rory Sabbatini.
Johnson, a South Carolina native who had not played his home state’s only PGA TOUR stop for nine years before returning in 2018, seems to have found a home on Harbour Town Golf Links’ narrow fairways and smallish greens. He had his sixth round in the 60s over the last two years to reach 10 under.
“I’m really enjoying playing in it,” Johnson said. “I really enjoyed playing in it last year after being away for so long. It’s something I look forward to now. We have a really big fan base here and growing up in South Carolina definitely helps.”
Lowry led the first 48 holes before making three bogeys on his final six holes in a 71. Poulter shot a 67, and Sabbatini had a 68.
Patrick Cantlay kept up his stellar weekend play and was two shots behind. Cantlay shot 64-68 last week at the Masters and had a 66 to lead a group of six at 8 under.
Johnson, who’s won 20 PGA TOUR titles, showed off other parts of his game that sometimes get overlooked by his massive drives. He saved par out of the pine straw after a bad drive to the right and into the trees on the 12th hole, then made birdie on the par-5 15th after putting his tee shot in the woods. He hit just five of 14 fairways, yet had only 25 putts.
“The course played tough. It was very challenging,” he said. “It was tough getting balls close to the hole.”
So Johnson just made a bunch of long putts. He had a 20-footer for birdie on the sixth hole and a 19-footer for birdie on the 13th. The highlight came at No. 14 when Johnson dropped a 47-foot bomb that caught the lip of the cup and rolled almost all the way around before dropping.
Poulter is tied with Shane Lowry, who led after the first and second rounds, and Rory Sabbatini at 9 under, one stroke off the lead held by Dustin Johnson. He termed himself “relaxed” and looking forward to the chance to win his fourth PGA TOUR event.
Poulter’s most recent victory came a year ago at the Houston Open, and that playoff win snapped a six-year drought. In nine starts this season, he’s already had two top-10s, including a tie for third at the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship in February.
“I don’t put any pressure on myself anymore,” the 43-year-old said. “It’s not about the win, it’s about being in contention, which I’ve done that a lot this year.
“I feel great about my game and I’m just going to go have some fun.”
Poulter admittedly didn’t get off to the best of starts on Saturday, pulling his drive left and out-of-bounds on the first hole. He went on to make a double bogey — which is “not very helpful,” Poulter said wryly — but the miscue turned out to be just a momentary slip.
Poulter got up and down from beside the green at the second hole for his first birdie, then he made three more in his final four holes as he made the turn. A 4-footer at the 13th hole and a 9-footer at the par-5 15th completed the lanky Brit’s scoring and left him in the final group with Johnson on Sunday.
After two days of battling swirling winds gusting to more than 30 mph, conditions are expected to moderate on Sunday. Temperatures will be in the low 70s and winds from the north at 12 mph.
The challenging conditions made Poulter’s back-to-back 67s all the more impressive.
“I knew it was going to be a difficult day today,” he said. “I really had to kind of focus, take my time, take opportunities when they come and not make any silly mistakes like I did at first.”
This is actually the second straight year that Poulter has been in the mix entering the final round at Harbour Town. He actually led by one at 13 under in 2018 but closed with a 75 to fall back into a tie for seventh. Avoiding mistakes like the one at the first hole on Saturday will be key.
“I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing,” Poulter said. “I’m in position again. I’m in contention, which is what I like to be on a Sunday. As often as I’ve done that this year, I haven’t quite finished one off.
“It would be nice to go out tomorrow and be aggressive where I can, and obviously see if I can go close.”