Masters 2020: Enviably calm, Dustin Johnson is dominating a laid-back tournament at Augusta National


AUGUSTA, Ga. — It should be no surprise that Dustin Johnson leads the most relaxed Masters of all time by four strokes going into Sunday’s final round. D.J. shot a 65 on Saturday and seemed to — if this is even possible — become more laid back as the third round unfurled at Augusta National Golf Club.

The tenor of the Masters always changes on Saturday afternoon. When the leaders tee off in Round 3, it shifts from a social gathering to the most intense day and a half on the professional golf calendar. You can see it and feel it, and the players can, too. It’s part of the rhythm of the week at Augusta National.

With no patrons in attendance this year, the shift never came. As the top golfers in this year’s Masters tried to get to the house with something respectable to take to the final round, the only audible applause came from a smattering of members of the club and their wives socially distanced throughout the property. It felt so low-key that it was as if 92 pros had been invited to a member-guest outing but all of the members ended up watching the guests instead.

Johnson offered the most dominant show of the week from the outset. His 221-yard approach at the par-5 2nd hole landed 3 feet from the pin, which he made for eagle before posting a 31 on the first nine that looked even easier than it reads. Even his bad shots were perfect. On the par-3 6th, he bemoaned a fade that started too far to the right on a left-hand pin. It hit a slope way outside his line and funneled all the way down for an under-the-hole birdie look.

Not the breaks we’re used to seeing D.J. get at majors.

A sensible second nine saw him birdie Nos. 13 and 15 and par the rest for his second 65 in three rounds. His 16-under score of 200 ties Jordan Spieth in 2015 for the lowest ever at the Masters, and he became just the fourth player to shoot 66 or better in the third round of the Masters after leading through 36 holes. The other three — some fellas by the names of Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Ben Hogan — all won by five strokes or more.

That type of blowout is what’s expected of D.J. on Sunday.

Though we have seen him give away 54-hole leads and co-leads at majors before (several of them, in fact), this year should (should!) be different. The four golfers closest to him — Sungjae Im (-12), Abraham Ancer (-12), Cameron Smith (-12) and Dylan Frittelli (-11) — are not heavyweights, and he’s never been up four.

2010 U.S. Open 3 82 T5

2015

U.S. Open

0

70

T2

2018

U.S. Open

0

70

3rd

2020

PGA Championship

1

68

T2

2020

Masters

4

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Plus, Johnson seems to be playing a different game than he has in the past. 

“Same as he’s been playing the last few months,” said first- and second-round playing partner Rory McIlroy. “See ball, hit ball, see putt, hole putt, go to the next. He makes the same so simple … or makes it look so simple at times for sure. 

“It’s something to admire all the time. I think he’s got one of the best attitudes towards the game of golf in the history of the game. I don’t know if I can compare him to anyone else, but the way he approaches the game is awesome.”

Added Johnson: “If I can play like I did today, I think it will break that streak [of giving away 54-hole major leads]. 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.  

Normally, D.J.’s vibe runs against the grain at major championships. The atmosphere in these four weeks is so intense that his looping gait and cat-like swag pop hard against a canvas of gritted teeth and racing hearts. This year? It fits in. The concessions are free. There are no ropes to herd patrons to the proper spots because there are no patrons. A yelping family member qualifies as a roar.

It’s apropos that this is Dustin Johnson’s Masters. 

It’s not that D.J. doesn’t care. He cares a lot. He simply has this inherent ability to let go of what he needs to and move on to the next shot. It’s a superpower in golf, and when McIlroy talks about it, it feels aspirational. And when D.J. is really rolling, he somehow dials down the tension, which seems impossible.

On the 8th hole Saturday, he cooked a 333-yard down the pipe that didn’t even scare the right-hand bunker that has given players fits for years. The most remarkable part, however, is that he took his swing before everyone was settled on the tee box and never even looked at where it landed. It was legitimately the best shot I’ve seen all week.

His mood felt directly related to his score. The deeper he went on the board, the more D.J.-like he became. After he birdied the 15th hole to get to 16 under, he was stopped by rules official Slugger White on his way to No. 16.

“The boys ahead of you are on the clock,” said White as D.J. spewed chaw the other direction and kept on striding. He left himself 13 feet for birdie 3 minutes later.

Of course, knowing D.J.’s tortured history in major championships, I expect something very normal and totally not unusual to happen to him with a nine-stroke lead on the second nine on Sunday. Something like one of the drones flying high above the club falling from the sky and rendering him unconscious until he’s put on the clock and eventually disqualified from the Masters. That would be almost less surprising than what’s happened to him over the course of his major career.

No lead is safe in golf, but this one is as secure as they come.

D.J. has hit 87% of greens in regulation, and the finish line is in sight. It seems obvious in retrospect, though D.J.’s lengthy arms being measured and remeasured for a green jacket has always seemed obvious. 

But here we are at the end of a long, tired, bizarre golf year, and the most placid man in the sport is about to win the most laid-back Masters of all time.





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