Johnson in Position to Win Back-to-Back Titles
By Rodney S. Yap
Dustin Johnson likes hitting the golf ball far and he has a lot of fun doing that when he’s here playing The Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort.
Designed to reward the game’s big hitters, the Plantation Course and the Hyundai Tournament of Champions are primed to crown their third back-to-back winner since 2004 today as three players, including Johnson, share the lead at 14-under 205 with 18 holes to play before the first 2014 winner is crowned.
Whether Johnson repeats here or not, he is certainly having fun manufacturing shots on the Plantation’s wide-open fairways and sometimes defenseless greens, posting a 4-under-par 69 on Sunday.
“It’s a fun course to play, there are four reachable par fives and two holes that are potentially drivable, maybe three,” said the 29-year-old American, who is seeking his 11th PGA Tour win. “For me, I enjoy playing it, especially if I’m driving it good If I’m not hitting driver well, its not fun, but I’ve been driving the ball well so it’s a lot of fun to play. You got to hit a lot of different shots, whether it’s a wedge from a 100 yards or a 6-iron from 140, you got to use a lot of feel and imagination.”
Tied with Johnson atop the leaderboard at 205 are Webb Simpson (68) and rookie sensation Jordan Spieth (69). The pair will tee off last this morning at 11 a.m., when the Golf Channel begins its live coverage.
Simpson made four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the back nine, and then hung on with two good pars to reach 14-under, while the 20-year-old Spieth found patience to be a virtue en route to his first time with at least a share of the 54-hole lead.
“Although I didn’t play the easy holes as well as I wanted to, I felt like I stayed patient and got a good birdie on 17 and a closing save,” said the Texan, who could record his second PGA Tour win in just 25 professional starts. “I had a nice turnaround on eight after a bogey. To birdie that hole I think was the spark of the day for me. On a really difficult par three, birdied eight and nine to get back on track.”
Simpson, the 2012 US Open champion, birdied four of the last seven holes.
“I always said about this competition, ‘You have to take advantage of the par fives,’ take advantage of the short holes,” said the 28-year-old, who earned his fourth PGA Tour win at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas three months ago. “This is not a golf course, when even if it’s windy you can go out shooting par. You would get laughed at if you did that, so my goal tomorrow is to stay aggressive and try and shoot a low number, cause I think it will take like something I did today or even lower.”
Spieth enters today’s final round with at least a share of the lead for the first time in his career.
“I’m just going to have to play off that confidence I’ve had all week… Luckily I know these guys well atop of the leaderboard so it doesn’t matter who I play with, it’ll be good times.”
Johnson, a long-hitting sniper by PGA Tour standards, capped Sunday’s third round of the winners-only tournament with a 4-under 69, just missing his chance to seize the outright lead at the par five 18th hole, when he narrowly missed a birdie attempt from 15 feet.
But the highlight for Johnson was a spectacular eagle at the par-five ninth after hitting a four-iron 211 yards to within two feet of the pin.
“Tomorrow I’m going to try and take advantage of the par fives,” Johnson said. “Today I made a birdie and an eagle, but I parred the two on the back nine, which is poor for me, especially if I’m hitting good drives. So tomorrow I want to take advantage of the par fives and the short holes.”
While 36-hole leader Zach Johnson struggled at 74, two shots behind at 12-under 207 heading into the finish. Gary Woodland (67), PGA champion Jason Dufner (69), Brandt Snedeker (69) and Kevin Streelman (70) were within three shots of the lead.
The Hyundai Tournament of Champions is the opening event of the year on the PGA Tour, but the seventh in the new wrap-around season for 2013-14.
Late Saturday, Simpson heard the news that there was a serious health issue with a son born to friend and caddie Paul Tesori and his wife, Michelle, in Jacksonville, Fla. According to reports Simpson had received, the baby, Isiah, “had a seizure” right after birth and was rushed into intensive care.
“It was tough to hear a friend hurting,” Simpson said.
Emotionally spent and anxious, waiting for his third round to start on Sunday, Simpson said: “If not for being 12 hours away from where he is, I’d consider going to see him. I was pretty down (at the start of Round 3), but Paul texted me, told me he loved me, and to go out and play hard.”
Round 3 – Complete
Humidity 81% / Wind NE 6 MPH / 69° Few Clouds