Dustin Johnson lost his yardage book and still found his way through an enormous crowd of contenders Saturday, making eight birdies at Harding Park for a 5-under 65 and a one-shot lead in the PGA Championship.
Nothing ever comes easily for Johnson in the majors. In this case, his brother had a spare yardage book. Even that might not have stopped Johnson from making his most birdies in any round of a major.
And he needed them all.
Johnson was among eight players who had at least a share of the lead at some point Saturday, a wild third round of low scores, long putts and endless possibilities.
One possibility is Brooks Koepka hoisting the Wanamaker Trophy for the third straight year, which hasn’t happened since Walter Hagen won four in a row in the 1920s when it was match play. Koepka was one shot behind when he made a few careless mistakes, ran off three straight bogeys and had to birdie the 18th for a 69 to stay within two shots.
Scottie Scheffler, the PGA TOUR rookie from Texas, bogeyed his last hole for a 65 and was one shot behind with Cameron Champ (67), who grew up in Sacramento and has the most powerful swing on TOUR.
Johnson was at 9-under 201 as he goes for his second major title. For all the chances he has had, this is only the second time he has led going into the final round.
“I’m going to have to play good golf if I want to win. It’s simple,” Johnson said. “I’ve got to hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens. If I can do that tomorrow, I’m going to have a good chance coming down the stretch. … I’m just going to have to do what I did today. Just get it done.”
Among the cast of contenders are major champions like Koepka, Jason Day and Justin Rose, and fresh faces like Scheffler, Champ and Collin Morikawa. Also right there was Bryson DeChambeau, thanks to a 95-foot putt for birdie on his last hole. Turns out he can hit long putts, too.
Missing from all this action is Tiger Woods, who didn’t make a birdie until the 16th hole and is out of the mix for the fourth straight major since his emotional Masters victory last year.
A dozen players were separated by three shots.
Haotong Li, the first player from China to lead after any round at a major, was leading through 12 holes until his tee shot didn’t come down from a tree. He made double bogey, dropped two more shots and finished four shots out of the lead.
Johnson didn’t have smooth sailing, either, especially when he couldn’t find his yardage book. He thinks it slipped into the bottom of the golf bag, and he didn’t feel like dumping his 14 clubs all over the ground to find it. Austin Johnson, his brother and caddie, had a spare.
Johnson shot 65 even with a double bogey on the ninth hole. Mistakes like that might be more costly on Sunday, the first major without any spectators. There was some concern that so many people in contention and no noise on the golf course might make it difficult for contenders to keep track of what’s going on.
Then again, Johnson won the U.S. Open in 2016 at Oakmont without knowing the score as the USGA tried to decide whether he should be penalized.
Haotong Li slips back
China’s Haotong Li endured a disappointing back nine at TPC Harding Park as his chase for major glory at the PGA Championship became unstuck on Saturday.
Holding an overnight two-shot lead, the young Chinese held his own for much of the third round before running into trouble by dropping four shots over a four-hole stretch from the 13th hole. He signed for a 3-over 73 to drop into a share of 13th place and will enter the final day four strokes behind new leader Dustin Johnson who leads on 9-under 201.
Korea’s Si Woo Kim fired a 68 to put himself on the fringe of contention alongside Li on 205. Kim made five birdies on the day, including two in his last three holes from 17 feet and eight feet.
Johnson, a 21-time winner on the PGA TOUR, produced eight birdies for a superb 65 and leads by one from Scottie Scheffler (65) and Cameron Champ (67).
A day after becoming the first Chinese golfer to the lead in any round at a major championship, the 25-year-old Li bravely kept himself on top of the leaderboard through 12 holes with birdies on Hole Nos. 7 and 12 against an early bogey on the fifth hole.
His troubles however began on the 13th hole when he lost his ball amongst the trees following a wayward drive which led to a double bogey six. He went on to drop further shots on Hole Nos. 14 and 16.
A member of the International Team at the Presidents Cup last year, Li arrived at TPC Harding Park in search of form after missing the cut at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide and finishing in a tie for 75th place at the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational last week.
His best finish in a major was a third-place outing in the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale where he closed with a 63. He will be hoping to replicate the herculean effort for a crack at major glory on Sunday.
Kim has not made a cut in four previous appearances at the PGA Championship but has produced three steady rounds of 69, 68 and 68 this week. A strong finish will also enhance his bid to qualify for the FedExCup Playoffs as he currently sits in 139th position on the points list. The top-125 players, after next week’s Wyndham Championship, qualify for the Playoffs.
Asia’s lone major victory to date was delivered by Korea’s Y.E. Yang when he won the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine.