Johnson eyes Masters win to end fourth round major hex

Augusta (United States) (AFP) –


Dustin Johnson will tee off in Sunday's final round of the Masters trying to capture the green jacket by turning a 54-hole major championship lead into victory for the first time in four attempts.

Should the 36-year-old American, who grew up only an hour's drive north of Augusta National, come out on top he would be the first current world number one to win the Masters since Tiger Woods in 2002.

"If I want to win, I'm going to have to go out and keep playing aggressive," Johnson said. "There are a lot of good players out there, so I'm going to have to play really well."

Johnson, whose only major win came at the 2016 US Open, fired a bogey-free seven-under par 65 Saturday to match the 54-hole course record of 16-under par 200.

That gave him a four-stroke edge over South Korea's Im Sung-jae, Australian Cameron Smith and Mexico's Abraham Ancer, with South African Dylan Frittelli on 205 and world number three Justin Thomas sixth on 206.

Those nearest pursuers to Johnson have only one major win between them, the 2017 PGA Championship victory by American Thomas.

While Johnson has only lost majors when carrying a 54-hole lead, he has never enjoyed as wide a margin as he owns at Augusta National, which lacks its usual atmosphere with spectators banned as a Covid-19 safety measure.

Johnson stumbled at the 2010, 2015 and 2018 US Opens and in August at the 2020 PGA Championship, where he settled for a runner-up spot.

"If I can play like I did (Saturday), I think it will break that streak," Johnson said. "It's just 18 holes of golf. I need to go out and play solid."

- In the swing -

Johnson's approaches were impressive, setting up a tap-in eagle at the par-5 second and five birdies.

"I feel like I'm swinging really well," Johnson said. "If I can just continue to give myself a lot of looks at birdie, I think I'll have a good day."

If he breaks 70 on Sunday, Johnson would shatter the 72-hole Masters scoring record, the 18-under 270 set by Woods in 1997 and matched by Jordan Spieth in 2015.

Players have taken full advantage of rain-softened conditions at Augusta National, although drying greens promised a formidable challenge over the final round.

Johnson, the PGA Player of the Year, has won or been second in five of his past six starts, including a victory at the Tour Championship.

After finishing sixth at the US Open in September, he contracted Covid-19 last month and missed two events, but was a runner-up last week at Houston.

Johnson, a runner-up in three of the past six majors including last year's Masters, would silence critics of his missed opportunities with a victory.

But there will be challengers trying to emulate the record eight-stroke Masters last-round winning comeback by Jack Burke in 1956.

Rory McIlroy, needing a green jacket to complete a career Grand Slam, went 66-67 after an opening 75 but stood eight adrift of Johnson.

"I think I've left myself too far back after the bad first day," McIlroy said. "But I'll go and give it a good effort and see where that leaves me."

- Tiger starts 11 back -

Defending champion Woods teed off sharing 20th on 211 after back issues limited him Saturday, when he was forced to play 26 holes. He could only manage 71 and 72 after matching his best-ever Masters start with a 68.

"I'm going to get a little bit sore," Woods said. "That has always been the challenge with my back issues and I guess will always continue to be."

Im and Ancer, each making his Masters debut, could become the first newcomer to swipe the green jacket since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

Ancer, trying to become the first Mexican to win a major title, and Smith could become the first golfers to shoot four rounds in the 60s in 84 editions of the Masters.

Im could become only the second Asian man to win a major crown after South Korean Yang Yong-eun captured the 2009 PGA Championship.