Dustin Johnson strikes, in hunt at Travelers Championship


CROMWELL, Conn. — In the National Geographic specials, when the leopard is stalking its prey, the powerful cat lowers its body and smoothly moves through the grass, keeping its eyes locked on its target. Then, from an ambush position, it explodes on the unsuspecting antelope, gazelle, or impala.

Mackenzie Hughes shot an opening-round 60 at the 2020 Travelers Championship, and then Phil Mickelson posted a dazzling 63 on Friday to take a one-shot lead into the weekend. No one talked about Dustin Johnson after he shot 69-64 to leave himself in a tie for 20th, six shots behind Mickelson.

Why should they?

The 20-time PGA Tour winner had missed the cut at the PGA Tour’s first re-start event, the Charles Schwab Challenge, and then finished T-17 last week at the RBC Heritage.

We were the gazelle.

Johnson, the 2016 U.S. Open winner and former world No. 1, feasted on TPC River Highlands, hitting 12 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens in regulation en route to shooting a career-low 61. He made nine birdies and no bogeys on the day.

“It always could have been better,” Johnson said afterward with a smile. “But, I hit a lot of nice putts that hit the hole from that 8- to 10-foot range, probably had four, five or six of them that I probably should have made. But yeah, I made some nice putts, too. I’m very happy with the way I played.”

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The 61 left Johnson at 16 under (194) and two strokes behind the tournament’s leader, Brendon Todd. After shooting 66-65, Todd also took advantage of ideal conditions, and great putting, to also shoot a bogey-free, 9-under 61. He will start Sunday at 18 under (192).

Todd, 34, is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and earlier this season won both the Bermuda Championship and the Mayakoba Golf Classic. He does not have Johnson’s star power or power off the tee, but the former University of Georgia standout is having a career year.

“It seems like since the fall, whenever I get a two- or three-week stretch in a row, I tend to be playing better by the end of it,” Todd said. “That’s just something I’m using to my advantage now after missing two cuts; I’m peaking in the third week, and hopefully I can get it done tomorrow.”

Given that TPC River Highlands will likely play softer on Sunday due to the rain that fell on the course Saturday, Todd was asked if another low-60s round might be needed for him to win.

“It very well could,” he said. “My job is going to be to go out there and get off to a good start and just try to make as many birdies as I can and see if I can’t shoot another good round.”

Kevin Streelman, the 2014 Travelers Championship winner, shot 63 and finished three shots behind Todd. Hughes, playing in the last group, shot 68 to stay four shots off the lead.

Other low rounds were turned in by Scott Stallings, who carded a 64, as well as Bryson DeChambeau, Kevin Na and Charley Hoffman, who each shot 65.

Before the third round began, Jason Day, the 2016 PGA Championship winner, awoke not feeling well. He requested that the PGA Tour arrange for him to be tested for COVID-19, and while the result of the test was negative, the Australian played the third round as a single, teeing off on the 10th tee at 9:15 a.m.

Day wound up shooting 1-under 69 and will start the final round T-49.

Earlier in the week, you would have been hard pressed to find a player wearing a mask outside the clubhouse or in the practice area, but by Friday and Saturday, masks have become commonplace. Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Luke Donald, Zach Johnson and many other players wore them. While Dustin Johnson spoke with the media on Saturday, standing about eight feet from reporters, his mask fell out of his pocket. Television viewers may have even spotted Todd’s caddie, Nick Jones, wearing a mask while carrying the bag.

While Todd and Johnson made golf look easy at TPC River Highlands on Saturday, several big names struggled to keep pace.

Mickelson, playing in the last group of the day, shot a disappointing 1-over 71 and finished the day tied for seventh, six shots behind Todd. He struggled off the tee, hit fewer greens in regulation and his putter went cold. In the second round, he made 102 feet of putts; in the third round, 61 feet.

McIlroy also struggled. After opening with 63-68, he shot 1-under 69 today to fall eight shots off the lead. While the world’s No. 1 player showed plenty of power off the tee, averaging 328 yards on the two measured holes, Rory hit just 11 or 18 greens in regulation. He will start Sunday at tied for 18th.



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