AUGUSTA, Ga. — You can tell a lot about a player by the way he walks the hills of Augusta National. The beaten ones look like they’re headed to prison. Tiger Woods strides like he owns the place; Rory McIlroy struts like he’d like to.
And then there’s Dustin Johnson. DJ doesn’t walk the course. He lopes. He ambles. He saunters through the pines like a gunslinger, complete languid confidence in every step.
On Saturday, Johnson seized control of the Masters, firing a bogey-free 7-under round to match the lowest 54-hole score ever recorded at Augusta. That left him four strokes ahead of the field and in position to claim his first green jacket and second major overall.
About that “second major” thing. All that’s keeping the golf world from expecting Sunday to be an 18-hole coronation is this: Johnson has held and blown four solo 54-hole leads in majors, most recently at this year’s PGA Championship. It’s the most of anyone who’s failed to convert even one of those leads into a victory.
There was the infamous “bunker/waste area” violation at the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. The final-round 82 after leading the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. The three-jack from 12 feet to miss out on both a win and a forced playoff at the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay. And the 2020 PGA Championship at Harding Park, where Collin Morikawa shot a 64 to pass Johnson, whose Sunday 68 went for exactly zip. That’s one hell of a grim record of closing failure, and it doesn’t even include the 2018 U.S. Open, where he was tied for the lead after three days and lost to Brooks Koepka by two strokes.
But there are signs this week could be different. Johnson began the day tied with four others at -9, and it took all of two holes to put a distance between himself and the pack that no one would close all day. Johnson eagled the second, birdied the third and fourth, and leaped out to a lead that would grow to four strokes by day’s end.
“If I can play like I did [Saturday], I think it will break that streak,” Johnson said. “But yeah, I mean, [Sunday], it's just 18 holes of golf. I need to go out and play solid. I feel like I'm swinging really well. If I can just continue to give myself a lot of looks at birdie, I think I'll have a good day.”
With his second 65 on the week, bracketing a second-round 70, Johnson is now the first player in Masters history to have multiple rounds of 65 or better. Those 65s also marked Johnson’s lowest score ever in the tournament; prior to this week, he’d never shot better than a 67 at Augusta.
“With the conditions being soft, you can be really aggressive no matter what club you have in your hand, as long as you feel comfortable with how far you're going to fly it,” Johnson said. “I feel like the golf course is in really good condition just with all the rain, it's just so soft. So you've got to be aggressive and you've got to attack the flags.”
A one- or two-stroke lead in a major is one thing; that can vanish even with a stellar round. But a four-stroke lead puts Johnson in “blown” territory if it doesn’t hold up. The largest three-round lead blown at the Masters came back in 1996, when Greg Norman was up six only to infamously lose by five. Most recently, Rory McIlroy was up four strokes in 2011 before disaster hit on the second nine.
But that’s a statistic for Sunday. For the moment, Johnson is sleeping on another 54-hole lead at a major … with a Masters championship waiting just 18 holes away.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at email@example.com.
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