Dustin Johnson fired a 5-under-par 66 on Saturday and built a four-stroke lead after the third round at the WGC-Mexico Championship at Club de Golf Chapultepec in Mexico City.
Johnson is at 16-under 197 and well in front of Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, who had seven birdies and four bogeys on his card in the third round for a 68, good for second. Patrick Reed, Patrick Cantlay, Australia’s Cameron Smith and Spain’s Sergio Garcia are tied for third, seven shots back of Johnson at 9 under.
Reed fashioned a third-round best 7-under 64 on Saturday while Cantlay carded a 65, Smith finished with a 68, and Garcia birdied the last hole to end up with a 69. Reed will be in the final group with Johnson and McIlroy on Sunday.
Johnson still has not made a bogey this week through 54 holes, but a double bogey on the 10th hole showed that he is indeed human and slowed his march to this title, if only for one hole.
“I played really well on the front nine even though I missed some putt, but on 10, I misjudged the lie a little bit and it jumped straight up in the air and hit the tree and I ended up making double,” Johnson said. “I didn’t let it bother me because I knew I was playing well and I knew that there were still plenty of holes I could make birdie on coming down the stretch.”
Johnson also had an eagle on the par-4 second hole, when he drove the green and made a 4-foot putt. He had birdies on the fifth, 11th, 12th and, after a wonderful pitch, on the 15th. He also birdied No. 17.
“I feel good just about everywhere,” Johnson told Golf Channel, when asked about the state of his game. “I’m doing everything well. These green here are pretty tricky and I keep giving myself opportunities to make birdies. Maybe I will take advantage of a couple more of those on Sunday.”
If there is a horse for the course this week, it’s Johnson, who has two top-10 finishes in two starts in this event and won this championship in 2017.
Johnson had the 36-hole lead at 11 under, two strokes over first-round leader McIlroy and Matt Kuchar. Tommy Fleetwood of England started the third round three shots off the pace and Garcia was four back.
Kuchar on Saturday stumbled to a 79 -- he had five bogeys and three double bogeys on his card -- while playing in the final group with Johnson and McIlroy. He has a 54-hole total of 212, 15 shots behind Johnson.
Ian Poulter of England (69) and Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat (68) are tied for seventh at 8 under.
Fleetwood (72) never got anything going, ending the round tied for ninth at 6 under.
Tiger Woods had an up-and-down round, settling for a 70 that featured six birdies, three bogeys and double bogey. Woods needed 35 putts in the round, just two shy of his all-time high of 37 in a PGA Tour round. He’s among the four players tied for ninth at 207, 10 shots off Johnson’s lead.
McIlroy had a slow start -- he was six shots off Johnson’s lead after eight holes -- but played the final 10 holes in 4 under.
“I hung in there because I didn’t hit the ball as well as I did the first couple of days,” McIlroy explained. “I kept myself in some sort of touch with D.J., which I had to work to do. The course is getting rather difficult out there, it’s getting bouncy, and it’s going to be tough out there if it remains dry like this and it gets even firmer and faster.”
Four players in the last 50 years have won 20 times on the PGA Tour before turning 35: Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, Woods and Phil Mickelson. Johnson can join them if he can finish off things on Sunday. It would take an epic collapse for him, or a torrid round by McIlroy, not to get the job done in the final round.
Johnson has won seven of 15 times he’s held a 54-hole lead in his PGA Tour career. He said he will approach Sunday’s final round with the same strategy he had the first three days.
“There are a lot of great players behind me and I am going to have to go out and shoot a great score if I want to win,” Johnson said. “It should be a lot of fun.”