Johnson leads, Woods makes charge at U.S. Open

June 20, 2010

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Pebble Beach, CA – Dustin Johnson kept his foot on the pedal and cruised to a three-shot lead Saturday at the U.S. Open, pulling within site of his first major championship.

In his rearview mirror was Tiger Woods, just five back after crafting a finish for the ages at Pebble Beach.

Relying on his length and a soft touch around the greens, Johnson shot a gutsy five-under 66 to overtake Graeme McDowell for the third-round lead, continuing his charge on a course where he’s won the regular PGA Tour stop the last two years.

Johnson birdied the last two holes and finished at six-under 207, with McDowell three strokes back at 210 following a 71 that included two late bogeys.

Woods finally got moving after two unimpressive rounds, firing a 66 that was punctuated by an instant-classic shot at the 18th hole.

From 260 yards out, Woods cut a three-wood around the fairway Cypress tree, running the ball all the way to the green and within about 20 feet of the hole.

He missed the eagle putt, but tapped in for a closing birdie — his third straight — that got him to one-under 212, good for third place ahead of Ernie Els and Gregory Havret.

Woods made eight birdies in his last 15 holes after collecting just three in his first 39, charging into contention for his fourth U.S. Open title at the seaside course where he captured No. 1 by a record 15 shots in 2000.

He was down by as many as nine shots early in the round, but finally looked like the world’s No. 1 player again as he cut the deficit to five.

“I’m going to have to put together another good round tomorrow in order to win this,” Woods said.

Phil Mickelson will need more than a good round to finally claim his first U.S. Open. He was languishing nearly out of contention after piecing together an up-and-down 73 that left him in sixth place at one-over 214 — seven shots back.

Lefty’s misadventures Saturday included a right-handed shot and double-bogey at No. 9 and a trip to the beach at No. 18 after he knocked his drive over the seawall.

“It will be challenging to make up that many shots,” said Mickelson, the owner of a record five runner-up finishes at the U.S. Open. “I didn’t expect to be that far behind.”

Woods stirred the Pebble Beach galleries with skillful shots and dead-on putts that conjured memories of his weekend charge at Torrey Pines two years ago, but it was Johnson who had his hands on a three-shot lead.

The longest hitter in the field, Johnson drove the green with an iron at the tempting 280-yard fourth, chasing the ball to eight feet to set up an eagle.

But he also displayed a soft touch, spinning his tee shot at the 99-yard seventh hole to tap-in range. Johnson made the deceptive downhill shot look easy, collecting a birdie just several groups after Englishman Ian Poulter wondered aloud how anyone was supposed to play the hole.

“If I keep hitting like I’ve been hitting and putting it in the spots on the green, then I’m going to be tough to beat,” Johnson said.

Johnson curved in a long birdie putt at the 17th and moved two shots ahead when McDowell bogeyed the hole. Trusting his driver all the way to the end, Johnson struck his ball into the rough at the 18th, but set up his closing two-putt birdie with a six-iron from 221 yards.

“I got it back together down the stretch,” said Johnson, a 25-year-old who has captured the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am each of the last two years.

McDowell began the day with a two-shot lead and immediately put to rest any doubts about how the 30-year-old from Northern Ireland would handle the pressure of a U.S. Open spotlight.

Blinded from the No. 1 green by a tree, McDowell knocked his approach shot from the rough to within two feet to set up an opening birdie. But he mixed too many bogeys (three) with too few birdies (three) on a day when Johnson had everything working.

McDowell took his last two bogeys at the 16th and 17th holes, falling three back in his bid for a first major championship.

“I wasn’t quite expecting Dustin to do what he did, but he played magnificent today,” said McDowell, who owns five wins in Europe, the last coming two weeks ago in Wales.

Everyone expected this round from Woods at some point, and it finally came on a Saturday that began with the 14-time major champion treading water again and trying to pick up shots.

The finish couldn’t have been more different than the start.

Woods made back-to-back bogeys at the second and third holes to fall nine shots back. But he rebounded with three straight birdies and made only one more bogey the rest of the round.

He made five birdies for a back-nine 31, including three in a row to end the round. He drained a 15-foot putt from the fringe at No. 17 that had five feet of break, setting the stage for his dramatic finish.

“I just kept telling myself I needed to get back to even par for the tournament,” Woods said. “That was the game plan starting out…and I just happened to do one better.”

Els, a two-time U.S. Open champion, followed back-to-back birdies with a bogey at No. 17 and shot a 72 to earn his share of fourth place with Havret, who carded a 69.

Ryo Ishikawa, the 18-year-old star from Japan, also drove the green at No. 4 and shot a 75 to share seventh place with Players champion Tim Clark (72) and Alex Cejka (74) at three-over 216.

NOTES: Johnson has three career wins on the PGA Tour. One of his victories at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am was weather-shortened…Johnson and McDowell will play in the final pairing again on Sunday…Woods will play with Havret in the second-to-last pairing…Mickelson will play with Els in the group ahead of that.


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