Dustin Johnson produced a best-of-the-day 65 in the third round of the Masters, to put himself in prime position to win a Green Jacket.
-12 Im, Smith, Ancer
-9 Munoz, Reed, Rahm
-8 McIlroy, Koepka, Fleetwood, Matsuyama
The world number one hit all 14 fairways and missed just two greens in a near-flawless round which matched the score he registered on Thursday, and saw him become just the second man in history to reach 16-under through 54 holes of this famous event.
In doing so he established a four-shot lead over Presidents Cup teammates Sungjae Im, Cameron Smith and Abraham Ancer, who all began 2020 having not yet won on the PGA Tour and are now tasked with chasing down the best player in the sport at its most iconic course.
Justin Thomas had appeared the chief threat to Johnson until a sloppy finish saw him fall to sixth place and six off the lead, and while Rory McIlroy added a 67 to his second-round 66, the 10-shot start he gave to Johnson in the first round has only been narrowed to eight.
It's Johnson therefore who holds the fate of this tournament in his hands. That he's yet to convert a major championship lead from four attempts might offer some hope for those in pursuit, but should they watch the highlights from Saturday they'll see a player in total control of his ball.
That much was clear from the second hole, when he fired a long-iron approach to within a couple of feet for the simplest of eagles. A birdie followed at the short third, before a lengthy left-to-right putt dropped in for another at the fourth - one of the hardest holes on the course.
Johnson birdied the seventh after a wedge spun back to tap-in distance, and birdies at the 13th and 15th holes also came from close range after he'd found the green in two on those dangerous par-fives.
An imperious round was completed with the only par putt of note he faced throughout the day and, at 16-under, Johnson will surely win the tournament if he breaks 70 for the third day in four. Doing so would also mean he registers the 72-hole scoring record which is jointly held by Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods.
“I’ve just got to go out and execute,” Johnson said. “I’ve got a game plan that I’m going to stick to and hopefully I can shoot a nice number.”
Thomas will feel as though he missed an opportunity to close in on the leader having been three-under himself after birdies at the second, sixth and 10th holes, but a six-foot par putt went begging at the 12th, a pulled approach and poor chip cost him another at the 14th, and his second to the par-five 15th flew the green and found water as he dropped another.
The 2017 PGA champion birdied the 13th and 16th holes to remain among the chasing pack but a closing bogey saw him join Jon Rahm, Patrick Cantlay and Hideki Matsuyama as major contenders whose challenges faltered just as Johnson was tightening his grip.
It's the three international players who are left closest, with Im perhaps the most dangerous of them after a four-under 68 was capped by a birdie at the 18th hole after he'd made his sole bogey at the 17th. The Korean chipped in at the 11th in another demonstration of the all-round game which has powered his rise through the ranks.
Smith scrambled remarkably at the 16th and 17th holes to shoot 69 and Ancer made just one mistake, a three-putt at the 13th, in an impressive display from an unfamiliar position. Yet Sunday asks a new question and these short hitters will surely have to be impeccable to reel in the leader. Indeed either could become the first man in history to break 70 on all four days of the tournament, yet such is Johnson's lead, they would likely need to do so by a margin to lay down a serious challenge.
Nothing is straightforward at Augusta, where disaster lurks around every corner, and yet Johnson made it appear that way on Saturday. He's odds-on to become a multiple major champion and confirm his status as one of, if not the greatest player of his generation.
“I’ve been playing well and I just needed to get a few putts to drop,” Johnson, who has not finished worse than sixth in his six starts either side of testing positive for Covid-19, added on Sky Sports.
“It was a really good day, I know if I can just get it in the fairway I’m going to give myself a lot of good chances at birdie. There’s so many really good players around the lead I’m going to have to go out and play well if I want to win.
“The game’s in good shape so I’m very confident in what I’m doing so tomorrow hopefully you’ll see a lot of what you did today.”