Johnson takes 3-shot lead into final round of U.S. Open
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Dustin Johnson plays his best at Pebble Beach no matter what month, no matter what stage.
Hours after Tiger Woods came to life in the U.S. Open with his best round of the year to get into contention, Johnson turned in a prime-time performance every bit as good Saturday.
with a 5-under 66 to build a three-shot lead over Graeme McDowell.
Johnson, the two-time defending champion in the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, overpowered the course and birdied his last two holes, hitting 6-iron onto the green from the rough on the par-5 18th for a 5-under 66 and a three-shot lead over Graeme McDowell.
McDowell struggled down the stretch, fell out of the lead on the 17th and finished with an even-par 71. He will play in the final group Sunday, with a familiar face — and a familiar game — directly in front. Woods was alone in third, five strokes back after his own 66.
Woods finally looks like the Woods of old.
Nine shots out of the lead after a pair of sloppy bogeys early in his round, Woods hit his stride by making the clutch putts and producing extraordinary shots that have been missing since he returned to competition two months ago.
First came a curling, downhill birdie putt on the 17th.
He followed that with an aggressive 3-wood on the 18th, carving it around a cypress and out toward the Pacific and onto the green to about 15 feet for a two-putt birdie. It was his eighth birdie of the round, the most he has ever made in a U.S. Open.
And it put him in the mix for a 15th major, and second U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
“It’s been a while,” Woods said. “I hadn’t played good enough for anyone to cheer anything. So it was nice to actually put it together on the back nine and put myself right back in the championship.”
Johnson, who played a practice round with Woods on Monday, made it a lot tougher.
The 25-year-old from South Carolina, often overlooked among the stylish young stars in golf, put on a powerful display that led Woods earlier this week to call him “stupid long.”
He hit a 3-iron up the hill on the par-4 fourth hole to four feet for eagle. And on the 18th, the same hole where Woods hit two 3-woods onto the green, Johnson got there with a driver and a 6-iron.
Johnson is not flashy. He’s not a fist-pumper. And he didn’t sound the least bit flustered about taking a three-shot lead into the final round of the U.S. Open.
“I’m going to be tough to beat,” said Johnson, who was at 6-under 207.
Only three players remained under par, with Ernie Els (72) and Gregory Havret of France (69) at even-par 213.
Phil Mickelson stumbled at the start, nearly fell apart along the coastal holes when he had to play one shot right-handed, and had to scramble for par on the closing hole when his tee shot bounced off the rocks and rolled back down on the beach.
Mickelson, runner-up in the U.S. Open a record five times, wound up with a 73 and was seven shots out of the lead.
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