The target’s on DJ entering the final round at Pebble Beach
February 10, 2018
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
Dustin Johnson's closing birdie at AT&T Pebble Beach
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Dustin Johnson is only the co-leader entering the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. But given his track record at this event, it’s easy to tag him as Sunday’s heavy favorite.
After all, he’s won twice at Pebble Beach. Since then, he’s finished top-5 on four occasions.
In his 2009 win, he was the 54-hole leader and never had to play another hole due to weather issues that wiped out the final round. A year later, he was the 54-hole co-leader with Paul Goydos by four strokes and won despite shooting a 2-over 74.
Of course, he led after 54 holes at the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, and you may recall what happened that Sunday – a collapse of epic proportions. That’s really a moot point, though. Johnson’s different now, a more well-rounded player, significantly improved in all facets of the game. Consequently, he’s become the world’s best player.
So while he’s tied with Ted Potter Jr. at 14 under, DJ will carry the biggest target at Pebble Beach. He also knows the vibe will change from the first three days of fun during the three-course pro-am rotation. It’s now all business on Sunday. Fewer celebrity amateurs, more grinding.
“Sunday you start focusing just a little bit more,” said Johnson, who unfortunately won’t have his amateur partner by his side. Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky had to withdraw, taking the duo out of team contention. “Probably should have had a little bit more focus today maybe, but I still got it around OK.”
Indeed, Johnson was threatening to put away this tournament early on Saturday. Fueled by three birdies and an eagle, he was 16 under through seven holes and leading by three shots. But the tricky windy conditions at Pebble Beach caught up to him, as did the red-hot Potter, who was on 59 watch for most of his round at Monterey Peninsula.
Dustin Johnson interview after Round 3 of AT&T Pebble Beach
Potter dropped back with two late bogeys, and so did Johnson, who bogeyed three of his first eight holes after the turn before tying Potter with a birdie at the 18th. DJ eventually settled for a 2-under 70.
Consequently, the rest of the field breathed a sigh of relief, knowing they have less ground to make up Sunday. Jason Day and Troy Merritt are the closest pursuers at 12 under, with Jon Rahm, Steve Stricker and Patrick Rodgers another shot back.
Plus, warned four-time AT&T Pebble Beach winner Phil Mickelson, Pebble Beach doesn’t always favor the front-runner (although it has lately, with the leader/co-leader winning four times in the last five years).
“A lot of times the winner has come from the group or two ahead of the leaders,” Mickelson said after his even-par 72 left him at 9 under and within striking distance. “With the conditions being as tough as they are, I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens again.”
The key likely will come down to which player best negotiates the winds that are once again expected to make an impact Sunday. From that standpoint, Johnson probably has an advantage over Potter, who played Pebble Beach in the first round and shot 68 in benign conditions. By playing Pebble on Saturday, Johnson saw the course as it will likely play on Sunday.
While Potter can’t match DJ’s track record at Pebble Beach, he does have some unfinished business here. He was the co-leader with Brandt Snedeker after 36 holes in 2013 before finishing T-16.
Potter’s lone TOUR win is the 2012 The Greenbrier Classic, coming in the 16th start of his TOUR career. Since then, he’s made 63 starts with two top-10s, both coming in 2013.
“I haven’t been in contention too much, really,” said the lefthander. “I’ve had some good tournaments, but I need to get there more often to get comfortable there.
“But tomorrow will be a good test for me and to see how it goes. I’ve been working on my swing and trying to get everything right there, and the swing’s getting to the point where I feel good about it. Now it’s just getting comfortable playing at a high level.”
DJ, of course, already has that comfort level, especially at Pebble Beach. In his last nine rounds on this iconic course, he’s a combined 32 under, posting sub-par scores each time.
On Sunday, he’ll seek his 18th TOUR win while hoping to put more distance between himself and everybody else in the world rankings.
“All in all, the game’s pretty sharp,” Johnson said. “I feel like it’s in really good form going into tomorrow.”
Sounds like he’s ready to win again at Pebble Beach.