“I’m going to need to go out and play a really good round of golf if I want to win tomorrow.”
In other words, he’s not counting his chickens. No one knows better than he does how much can happen over the course of a single round of golf. The man with 23 PGA TOUR wins, including one major (2016 U.S. Open), has proven just as fallible as the next guy.
Or more so, at times. At the 2017 World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions, Johnson shot 77 and became the second in TOUR history to lose a six-shot 54-hole lead.
This is the fifth time he has held the 54-hole lead/co-lead at a major. He’s 0 for 4. Three of those were U.S. Opens, the most unforgettable of which was in 2010 at Pebble Beach, where he lost his three-shot lead with a second-hole triple bogey, shot 82, and finished a distant T8.
More recently, Johnson took the lead into the final round of the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in August, and while he shot 68, he lost to Collin Morikawa (64) by two.
Some of the losses are inevitable; no one puts himself in contention as much as Johnson, the reigning FedExCup champion. And it’s monumentally difficult to win on TOUR.
“I put myself in the situation a lot of times,” he said. “I know what it takes. I know how I respond in this situation. I’m very comfortable with having the lead going into tomorrow.”
After playing soft and relatively slow for the first 36 holes, the course sped up under sunny skies in round three. Rory McIlroy (67, 8 under) three-putted the 13th hole from just nine feet. Sunday won’t be easy, and Johnson, who grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, about an hour away, knows perfectly well the mystique around winning the Masters.
He has paid his dues, with four top-10 finishes here in the last five years. The other year? That was 2017, when he slipped on some stairs and hurt himself before reluctantly withdrawing.
He ranks 27th all-time with 23 TOUR wins and would tie Gary Player with one more. Johnson would be the first world No. 1 to win the Masters since Tiger Woods in 2002, and the eighth player to win it after finishing second the prior year.
He has dialed in his distance control with his wedges (he leads the field in greens in regulation at just over 87%), still crushes it off the tee (sixth in driving distance this week), and has kept his nerve on the greens (just one three-putt so far) with reads from his brother/caddie Austin.
Heck, Johnson even got a putting lesson from Norman himself.
“It’s definitely still a long way to go,” he said before driving back to his rental house, where he said he planned to eat dinner and spend a low-key evening with Paulina and the kids. “Still got 18 more holes left. But I mean, it would mean a lot. What a great event; it’s the Masters, a major. I grew up right down the road, so this one would be very special to me.”