PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Dustin Johnson poured in one last birdie at Poppy Hills, a quick putt from 7 feet above the hole that broke sharply into cup for a 5-under 67 and a four-stroke lead Saturday in the AT&T National Pro-Am.
There to celebrate his third straight round in the 60s were no more than about two dozen fans.
It was easy to overlook Johnson on Saturday, for the crowds typically flock to Pebble Beach to watch the celebrities and their follies. But if he can put together one more round, the 24-year-old Johnson will be difficult to ignore.
By overpowering the par 5s at Poppy Hills – birdies on all of them, with three eagle attempts – Johnson seized control at Pebble Beach and was poised to capture his second PGA Tour event in his last nine starts.
Johnson, a natural athlete with buckets of talent, didn’t get as much attention as other players in their 20s last year, such as Anthony Kim and Camilo Villegas. Then again, his lone victory came at Turning Stone, part of the Fall Series, when the stars stay home.
Another victory would put him in the conversation of rising young stars, put him into the top 50 in the world to qualify for the Accenture Match Play Championship and make him eligible for the first two majors, including his first trip to the Masters.
“I think I proved I can play with these guys,” Johnson said. “If I play better a few more times, I’ll get all the credit I need.”
Johnson was at 15-under 201 and will be in the final group with Mike Weir, who had a 69 at Spyglass Hill.
The big question is whether anyone gets to play.
Spots of sunshine returned to the Monterey Peninsula for the third straight day as the celebrities took over Pebble Beach, but the forecast is gloomy for the final round – an 80 percent chance of rain, expected to be heavy at times.
Pebble Beach has not had a Monday finish since Tiger Woods’ great rally in 2000, and it was 10 years ago this week when the late Payne Stewart birdied his final hole for a one-shot lead after 54 holes, which turned into victory when rain shortened the tournament.
Johnson appears to be in good shape either way.
Weir was plodding along at Spyglass Hill until he holed a 25-foot birdie putt on the par-3 fifth hole, then hit the ball as well as he ever has. The former Masters champion hit a hybrid for his second shot to 8 feet on the sixth, a 3-wood to 6 feet on the par-3 seventh, and a 5-iron to 5 feet on the eighth. Trouble is, he missed all the putts.
But he knocked in a 20-foot birdie putt on the last hole for a 69 that put him in the last group Sunday.
“That putt on the last hole made it a little nicer finish,” Weir said.
Retief Goosen was not so fortunate. Even after opening the tournament with rounds of 68-64, the two-time U.S. Open champion was concerned about how poorly he was hitting the ball, especially off the tee. That caught up to him at Spyglass, where he shot a 74 to fall five shots behind.
There was a mixture of laughs and groans at Pebble Beach, although sometimes it was tough to tell the celebrity from the pro.
Bill Murray strutted to the hole after a birdie putt, wearing a feather and a heart in his cap in honor of Valentine’s Day. Perhaps the most fitting scene was eight-time national surfing champion Kelly Slater going down to the beach – with a wedge, not a board – to play back toward the green. The next shot wound up in some kelp.
And then there was Phil Mickelson, putting up another big number.
Mickelson, who took an 11 on the 14th hole last year, was quietly putting together a good round and looked as though he would break 70 for the first time this year until he hooked a 5-iron off a cart path and out-of-bounds on the par-3 12th, leading to a triple bogey. Lefty rallied, however, smoking a tee shot with the wind at his back on the 18th, leaving him a 5-iron into the green for a two-putt birdie to make the cut on the number.
His comrades in the top five of the world ranking were not so fortunate. Padraig Harrington broke par for the first time this week with a 71 at Spyglass, but he missed the cut. So did Vijay Singh, playing for the first time since minor knee surgery the week after Kapalua.
Johnson’s lead is the largest at Pebble Beach since Mickelson had a seven-shot margin in 2005.
“It’s probably been in college since the last time I had a pretty big lead,” Johnson said.
But he doesn’t plan to be conservative, which is not a bad idea. Weir has seen how quickly fortunes can change at Pebble in any weather. It was three years ago when Weir was tied for the 54-hole lead with Arron Oberholser, and three holes into the final round he was five shots behind.
“You don’t really go away from your game plan at all,” said Johnson, who began the tournament with a 65 at Pebble Beach. “I played well here the first day, and looking forward to tomorrow. Not going to change the game plan at all.”
Divots: David Toms, who was No. 66 in the world and hopeful of moving into the top 64 to qualify for the Accenture Match Play Championship, missed the cut by four shots. Had he taken the week off, Toms likely would have moved into the top 64. … Davis Love III shot a 70 at Poppy Hills and was at 5-under 211, but he’ll have to go it alone on Sunday. He and his amateur partner, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, did not make the pro-am cut.