Dustin Johnson started the year with a few bumps along the road. After his fling with Natalie Gulbis went public at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, he withdrew from the Sony Open “to take care of some things at home.” Then at Riviera, DJ, who admittedly doesn’t check his own starting times, almost faced disqualification and incurred a two-shot penalty when he was late to the first tee.
Things have since settled down for DJ — he moved to a new home in Jupiter, FL. He’s back together with college girlfriend Amanda Caulder, who is with him this week at Doral. And he found his putting stroke, which had been the source of problems early in the season. With ideal scoring conditions on Saturday afternoon, Johnson fired a seven-under 65 at TPC Blue Monster to seize a two-stroke lead going into the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
“It was probably one of the better (rounds) so far this year,” said Johnson. “I played really well in San Diego, but the putter was not working. I finally feel comfortable with the putter so things are going a little better.
“I played okay the first couple of events and just haven’t played all that well — it was mostly due to the putter. I didn’t practice all that much the off-season. The weather wasn’t so good back home. When it’s real cold, it’s hard to sit there and putt.”
After a bogey on the par-3 No. 9, DJ caught fire on the back nine, posting five birdies and separating himself a bit from the clustered leaderboard.
Johnson also worked with coach Butch Harmon on the range before he teed off on Saturday.
“There wasn’t anything going wrong,” he said. “I just wanted to get him out there and to take a look at some things. The first two days, I didn’t really drive it that great. I hit into the fairway a little but wasn’t hitting the type of shots I wanted to. So we worked on the driver a little bit this morning and then got that working really well.”
Hitting fairways is crucial to scoring well at the TPC Blue Monster. Just ask Hunter Mahan, the 36-hole leader. Known to be one of the best drivers of the ball, Mahan has struggled to keep it in the short grass on the back nine the past two days.
“If you hit it in the wrong kind of place, you have a terrible angle to the hole and in the Bermuda rough, you can get a good or bad lie,” said Mahan, who looked in top form until he reached No. 13 where he posted his first bogey of the day. Despite two birdies on the back nine, he carded four bogeys, including the last two holes.
Meanwhile, Nick Watney, who went into the last hole with a share of the lead, made a bad swing on the intimidating tee shot. He hit it off the heel and found the drink. He ended up closing with a double-bogey — a blemish on his scorecard and a tough way to finish after kicking off the round with an eagle, along with draining five birdies. The mistake cost him a share of the 54-hole lead with Johnson. Watney signed for a four-under 68 and joined Luke Donald and Matt Kuchar at T2 with a three-day total of 11-under.
“I’m not sure what happened,” said Watney. “I hit a bad shot and I kind of hit it on the heel. When I first hit it, I thought maybe since I did hit it on the heel, it would fade back, but it stayed straight, so, oh well.”
Watney turned around and headed for the driving range to take out some of his frustration.
Johnson has held the 54-hole lead three other times in his career. He won twice at Pebble Beach and the other event was the US Open — and you know what happened that day.
With a victory, DJ could move into the top-ten in the world rankings for the first time in his career.
“It’s going to take another good round,” said DJ. “I played well today — I drove it well, putt it well, hit the ball well, so I’m going to have to do that again tomorrow.”
As always, very deep thoughts, but watch out — remember, he’s like the Silent Assassin.
(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)