John­son holds 4-shot lead after tree trou­ble

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY DOUG FER­GU­SON As­so­ci­ated Press

Dustin John­son watched a six-shot lead shrink to two be­fore putting to­gether enough birdies Satur­day for a 5-un­der 66 and a four-shot lead over Rory McIl­roy go­ing into the fi­nal round of the Mex­ico Cham­pi­onship.

John­son nearly threw away his six-shot lead through eight holes when McIl­roy made a 35-foot birdie putt on No. 9, and then John­son ran into some se­ri­ous tree trou­ble on the 10th hole. He hit trees with three con­sec­u­tive shots and had to two-putt from across the green to sal­vage a dou­ble bo­gey.

It was his first score worse than par at Cha­pul­te­pec Golf Club this week.

And it was his last of the day.

“I didn’t let it bother me be­cause I knew I was play­ing well and there were plenty of holes I could make birdie,” John­son said.

John­son an­swered with two straight birdies, sand­wiched two birdies around a big par save, and re­stored a cush­ion go­ing into Sun­day. McIl­roy got no closer than two shots all day and had to set­tle for a 68.

No one else was closer than seven shots of the lead.

Tiger Woods pulled within four shots after John­son’s blun­der, but his hopes ended on the greens.

Woods had a 5-iron from the mid­dle of the fair­way on the par-5 15th, put it into a bunker, blasted out weakly to 25 feet and four-putted for a dou­ble bo­gey, with the last three putts from just out­side 3 feet.

He fol­lowed that with a three-putt bo­gey on the 16th, and a birdie on the fi­nal hole gave him a 70. Woods, who hit 16 greens in reg­u­la­tion, was 10 shots be­hind and in no mood to speak to any­one after the round.

John­son, the only player to cap­ture all four World Golf Cham­pi­onships, is go­ing for his sixth WGC ti­tle and his 20th ca­reer vic­tory on the PGA Tour, which would make him a life­time mem­ber at age 34.

McIl­roy did his best to hang around. He made back-to-back bo­geys on the front nine that put him six be­hind, and then ran off three straight birdies to close the gap. He missed a 3-foot par putt on the 14th hole and was sud­denly left a tall order for Sun­day.

It’s even tougher on ev­ery­one else.

Masters cham­pion Pa­trick Reed fin­ished with three straight birdies for a 64 and was in the group seven shots be­hind with Pa­trick Cant­lay (65), Ser­gio Gar­cia (69) and Cameron Smith (68).

Reed started birdie- eagle and missed plenty of short putts. He said he would need as many op­por­tu­ni­ties on Sun­day and even a bet­ter score.

“It’s go­ing to take a re­ally spe­cial day to­mor­row,” Reed said. “I don’t think 7 un­der is go­ing to get it done. I’m think­ing it’s go­ing to at least take 10 (un­der) to maybe even a 59 depend­ing on how he fin­ishes the day.”

John­son had a two-shot lead to start the third round over McIl­roy and Matt Kuchar, whose hopes for a Mex­i­can sweep of PGA Tour events fiz­zled with a 79. John­son seized com­mand on the sec­ond hole, when he hit a driver over the trees on the 367yard hole, hopped it onto the green to 4 feet and made the putt for eagle.

He holed a 10-foot birdie on No. 5 and kept get­ting looks at medi­um­range birdie at­tempts with­out mak­ing them.

MARCO UGARTE AP

Dustin John­son hits the ball on the third hole in the third round of the WGC-Mex­ico Cham­pi­onship on Satur­day in Mex­ico City.

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