Battle lines drawn for Sunday showdown at Colonial CCMay 26, 2012
Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM Managing Editor
FORT WORTH, Texas -- For all intents and purposes, two men are left to decide this week's PGA TOUR title. One can't seem to do anything wrong at Colonial. The other can't seem to do anything wrong, period.
Seventy-two players will tee off in Sunday's final round of the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. But unless a most unusual twist of fate occurs, the Leonard Trophy, the plaid jacket and a spot on the Wall of Champions will be claimed by either Jason Dufner or Zach Johnson.
Those two pulled away from the field Saturday, Dufner shooting a 4-under 66 to finish at 15 under and Johnson shooting 65 for 14 under. Tom Gillis is in third place, eight shots back -- and no eventual champion at Colonial has ever come from eight shots down in the final day to win.
"The way those two guys are playing golf," said Bo Van Pelt, in a distant fourth place, "you would have to pretty much say it's a two-pony race right now."
Indeed. What we have left is essentially the stroke-play version of match play, starting at 1:55 p.m. ET Sunday when Dufner and Johnson tee off in the final twosome for the second consecutive day. Dufner leads 1 up.
"I don't know that I've ever been in this position," Johnson said.
"Kind of a unique situation," Dufner added. "The leaderboards here most of the year have been pretty packed and you got a lot of guys having a chance to win the title there the last nine holes.
"Tomorrow could be a little bit different."
What's not different is that Dufner and Johnson find themselves at the top here.
Projected points The race for spots in the FedExCup Playoffs continues this week. Click to see who's making moves at Colonial. Projections
For Dufner, it's the continuation of an incredible month-long run. For the 11th time in his last nine starts this year, Dufner holds at least the share of a lead. In the last month, he's held the 54-hole lead twice, and went on to victory both times, including last week's HP Byron Nelson Championship. That puts Dufner in position to become the first player in PGA TOUR history to pull off the Texas Two-Step in back-to-back weeks. Said Johnson: "I hope he's getting tired of winning."
For Johnson, it's the continuation of an incredible run at Colonial. Saturday's 65 was his 15th consecutive sub-par round on this course. He won here in 2010, probably played even better last year in tying for fifth, and now is in striking position again.
If you have to choose two players who would separate from the pack this week, they would be the obvious picks. Even so, no one could have anticipated such a wide crevice. Johnson had the lowest round in the field on Thursday, Dufner had the lowest round on Friday, and no one in the last 36 players to tee off Saturday shot lower than those two.
"What are you going to do?" Gillis said. "They are both playing great. Zach has played well here before, and I think everyone knows how well Jason is playing right now."
Dufner entered Saturday with a two-shot lead over Johnson but by the time they made the turn, Johnson had a share of the lead. It wasn't because of his ball-striking, but his short game. He needed just eight putts in his first nine holes to make the turn at 31. That left him at 13 under, same as Dufner.
Dufner's response was to birdie the first three holes after the turn while Johnson could respond only with pars. By the time they reached the 13th teebox, they looked at the big scoreboard and realized that no one else in the field was even close to the lead.
"At the same time, I wasn't hearing too many roars in front of us," Johnson said, "so that obviously was a telling sign. It's kind of nice if you are one of the two."
Round 3 Recap: Crowne Plaza
Jason Dufner shoots a 4-under 66 and leads Zach Johnson by one after 54 holes.
Still, Johnson knew he needed to keep Dufner within sight. At the 15th, he saved par by hitting a lob wedge from next to a water hazard within one foot, just when Dufner was thinking he might extend his lead. Then at the par-3 16th, Johnson rolled in a birdie putt from 17 feet while Dufner missed a par-saver from 7 feet.
That two-shot swing could prove vital on Sunday.
"He put a little bit of pressure on me and closed the gap to make it a little bit interesting tomorrow," Dufner said.
From Johnson's standpoint, he's just happy the deficit is just one stroke.
"I think Dufner played better than I did," Johnson acknowledged. "But I scored. Sometimes you got to have those days."
The two combatants said they will not try to focus on the other during the final round -- at least early on. After all, the winner will still be decided by fewest strokes, not holes won.
But on the back nine Sunday, that mentality might shift.
"If it comes down to so many odd holes and I'm near it," Johnson said, "then there might be a change of aggressiveness or conservativeness, but we'll see."
Said Dufner: "My focus will be to try and shoot a low score on the front nine, and I think maybe assess how Zach is doing, how I'm doing and maybe change your strategy a little bit."
Tale of the tape: Dufner vs. Johnson
This week Eagles 0 1 Birdies 19 16 Pars 31 33 Bogeys 4 4 Strokes gained - putting 1.880 (7th this week) 2.646 (2nd this week) Driving distance 297.3 293.5 Driving accuracy 71.4 percent 57.1 percent Greens in regulation 75.9 percent 64.8 percent Longest birdie run 3 holes (three times) 4 holes This season Starts 13 12 Cuts made 12 12 Wins 2 0 (2 runner-up finishes) Top 10s 4 3 FedExCup rank 1st 18th Career Starts 167 226 Wins 2 7 Colonial starts 3rd 6th Best finish at Colonial T59 (2009) 1st (2010) Best FedExCup finish 11th (2009) 6th (2009)
So while the list of title contenders has been reduced to two men, the amount of drama has not. It's Dufner vs. Johnson. May the best pro win.