PGA CHAMPIONSHIP: DJ takes lead, but Koepka still in the hunt

Dustin Johnson hits from the fairway on the 18th hole during the third round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at TPC Harding Park Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

By Jeremy Harness

Dustin Johnson grabbed the 54-hole lead on Saturday, shaking off a damaging double bogey with an impressive back nine in the hopes of winning the second major title of his career.

Johnson, who won the U.S Open in 2016, dropped two shots at the par-four ninth hole while having trouble around the green but rallied very quickly thereafter. He birdied the 10th and picked up three more shots in a four-hole stretch to card a five-under round of 65.

“I putted really well,” Johnson said. “That was key. But I hit a lot of good shots to give myself some good looks because the flags are tucked. The greens are firm and fast. So I did hit a lot of quality iron shots.

“Tomorrow I think I need to go — I definitely need to hit some more fairways, because it’s really tough playing this golf course from the rough. Obviously the bunkers, too, are very tough. A couple — had a few nice up-and-downs out of the bunkers, but also a few poor ones.”

One shot behind him, however, is another long hitter in Sacramento native Cameron Champ, who has made a steady climb toward the top of the leaderboard after a first-round score of 71.

He rallied the next day with a 64 and finished Saturday’s round at TPC Harding Park with a three-under 67 that featured six birdies against three bogeys.

“I’ve been really feeding off my driver,” said Champ, who won last year’s Safeway Open in Napa. “That’s been the key for me. Obviously today, I missed a few more fairways than I did yesterday, but I still was able to manage it from the rough. The drives I did hit well and I did hit in the fairway, I was able to take advantage of and make some putts.”

Among those a shot behind Champ is Brooks Koepka, who has won the PGA Championship twice in a row and is in the hunt for a third.

He was two-under for the first 12 holes but got on a bogey train on holes 13 through 15 before hopping off with a birdie at the par-4 16th. He finished his round with a birdie at the 18th to finish with a one-under 69 and well within striking distance.

“I thought I played a lot better than my score reflected,” Koepka said. “Really made one bad swing. But I left it in a good spot and just hit a poor chip. The other ones I was in the semi a lot, and I think sometimes in the semi, it can come out without spin or it can come with spin, and if you’re going to do that in the wind, it’s kind of tough to judge.”

“Maybe took a little bit too aggressive of lines on those out of the semi, but I just missed them in the worst spot possible, but they were good shots, so I felt like I played really well, putted really well, and the driver I hit great. It’s just sometimes they didn’t move with the wind, hit them too good.”

Koepka certainly has experience on his side going into Sunday’s final round. Of those who are currently in the top-six, only Koepka and Johnson have won majors, as Koepka also has two U.S Open titles to his credit.

Also at seven-under for the tournament is Cal product Collin Morikawa, who played TPC Harding Park numerous times during his tenure as Golden Bear and has a little local knowledge going for him.

“I felt really good,” Morikawa said. “I didn’t practice yesterday after the round, but I kind of had some thought of what I wanted to do before the round. Obviously playing with Adam Scott, great ball-striker, great swing, and it kind of helps when you play with someone like that just to kind of get the momentum.

“I hit some really good shots off the first few holes and had a little stumble on 12 and 13, but knew I had to regroup especially with 15 coming up, or 14 coming up. It’s not an easy hole. So definitely want to get out with at least a par. But overall, I felt really good. Rolled the putter really well, and keep that into tomorrow.”

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