World number one Dustin Johnson opened with a par in Sunday’s final round of the Masters as he launched his closing bid to capture the green jacket for his second major title. Johnson, who began the round with a four-stroke edge, has never converted a 54-hole lead into a major title in four attempts, but looked to end the curse at Augusta National.
The 36-year-old American, who grew up only an hour’s drive north of the course, would be the first top-ranked Masters winner since Tiger Woods in 2002. “If I want to win, I’m going to have to go out and keep playing aggressive,” Johnson said Saturday. “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 never enjoyed as wide a margin as at Augusta National, which lacks its usual atmosphere with spectators banned as a Covid-19 safety measure.
Johnson stumbled at 2010, 2015 and 2018 US Opens and in August at the 2020 PGA Championship, where he settled for a runner-up spot. 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.
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 challengers will try to emulate the record eight-stroke Masters last-round winning comeback by Jack Burke in 1956.
Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, needing a green jacket to complete a career Grand Slam, began his final round with two pars to stand on 8-under after play got underway following a brief delay for fog. Defending champion Woods, who struggled with back issues in settling for a third-round 72, birdied the par-5 second but took a bogey at the fifth and stood 5-under overall.
The 15-time major winner, a five-time Masters champion, matched his best start at Augusta with a 68 but could not threaten for an 83rd career US PGA title to break the mark he shares with Sam Snead. 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.