Dustin Johnson takes control at Kapalua

ABS-CBN Sports on Jan 07, 2018 08:50 AM
Dustin Johnson takes control at Kapalua
Dustin Johnson plays his shot from the 16th tee during the third round of the Tournament of Champions golf event, Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018, at Kapalua Plantation Course in Kapalua, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Matt York)

By Doug Ferguson, Associated Press

KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) — Dustin Johnson holed out with a wedge for eagle, made birdie on every par 5 and powered his way to a 7-under 66 to build a two-shot lead going into the final round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Coming off his lone bogey from a poor chip behind the green on the par-3 11th, Johnson faced a 65-yard shot down the hill and up the slope of the green, and it rolled out beautifully into the cup. He added three more birdies to reach 16-under 203.

Brian Harman couldn't keep pace, dropping two shots early on the back nine until a late rally for a 69 to stay within two shots. Harman began the day tied with Marc Leishman, who didn't make a birdie until the 16th hole and wound up with a 76 to fall nine shots behind.

Johnson won at Kapalua in 2013 when the wind was so strong that it took three days to start the tournament and it was reduced to 54 holes.

The No. 1 player in the world with a two-shot lead on any course is daunting enough, although recent history is enough to keep anyone's hopes alive. In his most recent PGA Tour start, Johnson lost a six-shot lead in the final round of the HSBC Champions in Shanghai.

This lead is only two shots, and there's more than Harman who can catch him.

Jon Rahm made up a lot of ground quickly with a birdie-eagle-birdie burst on the scoring holes in the middle of the back nine. A final birdie gave the explosive Spaniard a 66 and left him within range at four shots behind.

Johnson and Rahm have a little history. Rahm nearly chased him down in Mexico City last year in a World Golf Championship, and then three weeks later pushed him to the 18th hole in the final of Match Play, which turned out to be Johnson's third straight victory.

Rahm loves being in the mix with Johnson, even if the outcome hasn't gone in his favor.

"Hopefully, I can play good down the stretch like I've been doing, just start a little better on the front nine," Rahm said.

He did most of his damage on the three-hole stretch on the back nine where birdies are available. He just missed the reachable 14th and chipped to a foot for birdie, then hit his second shot on the par-5 15th to 8 feet for eagle, and holed a tricky 10-foot putt on the 16th.

Rahm will play in the penultimate group with Rickie Fowler, who shot a 68 to reach 11-under 208. Jason Dufner shot 69 and joined Fowler five shots behind.

Defending champion Justin Thomas spent more time with his father than he planned. Jimmy Johnson, his regular caddie, had a significant setback with his foot and will have to be in a protective boot for the next month. Thomas put his father to work. He had a pair of double bogeys over the last four holes, sandwiched between birdies, shot 75 and was 18 shots behind.

Jordan Spieth played with Rahm and never got much going in his round of 70, leaving him too far back.

Harman qualified for the Tournament of Championship by making a 30-foot birdie putt on the final hole to win the Wells Fargo Championship and avoid a playoff with Johnson and Pat Perez.

"I can't control what Dustin does. He's a fabulous player," Harman said. "He's going to be really hard to beat tomorrow, but trying to do something I'm not capable of is not the way to do it."

Johnson can do a lot on the Plantation Course. This was his 20th time out of 30 rounds to shoot in the 60s, and while his chip down the hill on the 12th for eagle was key, it was his driving in the wind — at his back or his face — that kept him out of trouble for much of the day.

He will be going for his 17th victory on the PGA Tour dating to his rookie season 10 years. Johnson has failed to win just one year during his career, in 2014.

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