Johnson emerges with two-shot lead at Doral after mistake-free back nine

dustin johnson
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Dustin Johnson shot a 31 on the back nine and avoided big mistakes for a 7-under 65, the best score of a blustery Saturday.
Doug Ferguson
Associated Press


Published: Saturday, March 12, 2011 | 6:16 p.m.

Dustin Johnson hit his stride and found his swagger Saturday on the back nine of the Blue Monster at Doral to emerge with a two-shot lead going into the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

Johnson hit what he called a "bunt drive" some 310 yards on the 17th and hit wedge to 2 feet for the last of his eight birdies. Just as importantly, he played the 18th hole without drama to finish with a 7-under 65.

He was at 13-under 203, although eight players are separated by three shots heading into the last day. All of those eight players are among the top 31 in the world ranking.

That group doesn't include Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, who finished before the leaders teed off and remain out of the mix. The surprise is that it doesn't include Martin Kaymer, either. The new No. 1 was in the final group with Hunter Mahan, one shot out of the lead, until he took double bogey from the water on the third hole and struggled to a 74. Kaymer was seven shots back.

Johnson will play in the final group with Luke Donald, who took bogey on the final hole for a 66. Even so, Donald is in good position to capture a second straight World Golf Championship, and a victory could be enough to make him No. 2 in the world.

Nick Watney, who lost a duel at Doral with Mickelson two years ago, was tied for the lead until a sloppy finish. Watney missed birdie putts of 7 feet on the 16th and 6 feet on the 17th, then pulled his tee shot into the water on the closing hole for a double bogey. Instead of leading, he had to settle for a 68 and was among those trying to chase down Johnson.

Watney, Donald and Matt Kuchar (68) were 11 under.

Rory McIlroy birdied his last two holes for a 69 and was another shot behind along with Adam Scott, Francesco Molinari and Mahan, who didn't make a par over the last six holes -- two birdies, four bogeys -- and shot 71.

All of them will be chasing Johnson, who has a 54-hole lead for the first time other than at Pebble Beach. He won twice at Pebble in the regular PGA Tour event, but is perhaps more famous for losing a three-shot lead at the U.S. Open last summer when he shot 82.

For all his power, Johnson is a threat this week because of his putting.

He didn't work on it once during the cold, rainy winter in South Carolina, and really didn't put much attention on it earlier this year until after he lost in the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship two weeks ago.

"I finally feel comfortable with the putter, so things are going a little better," Johnson said.

It sure wasn't a great start to the week. With his opening tee shot on Thursday, Johnson hammered a drive that hit a spectator in the head. Only when he got to his ball did he learn it was his grandfather, Art Whisnant, who once starred in basketball at South Carolina.

And then the siren sounded to stop play because of storms.

Johnson has been much more accurate since then, and it has taken him to the cusp of another victory.

Even so, top players are stacked behind him.

"I'm certainly playing very good golf right now, some of the best I've ever played," said Donald, who ran off three birdies in a four-hole stretch around the turn and was bogey-free until a tee shot to the right, leaving him little chance of reaching the 18th green.

Few other contenders were pleased, mainly because of how they finished.

Watney looked as though he might have a two-shot lead, and instead was two shots behind. Molinari, who won the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai in November, nearly went in the water on the last and took bogey.

Mahan kept in front most of the way until failing to birdie the par 5s on the back nine, and finishing with back-to-back bogeys.

"Out here, you hit it in the wrong place, you have a terrible angle to the hole and in the Bermuda rough, you can get a good lie or a bad lie," he said. "Just didn't make good swings and made some bad putts."

Woods and Mickelson, playing for the third straight day together, didn't inspire. Woods switched back to a mallet putter -- the same one he tried in Australia last year -- and the best he could manage was a 2-under 70 that left him 11 shots behind. Mickelson had a sloppy double bogey on the 14th and wound up with a 72, putting him at even-par 216.

Woods didn't comment after his round. He told a tour official he was going to the range, but instead headed to the parking lot.