Johnson in Position to Win Back-to-Back Titles

January 6, 2014, 6:42 AM HST · Updated January 6, 8:04 AM
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Dustin Johnson reacts to a putt on the 18th green during round three of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at the Plantation Course on Sunday, Jan, 5. Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images.

Dustin Johnson reacts to a putt on the 18th green during round three of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at the Plantation Course on Sunday, Jan, 5. Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images.

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.

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Rd 4 tee times“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.”

Webb Simpson plays a shot on the 1st hole during the third round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at the Plantation Course on Sunday, Jan, 5. Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images.

Webb Simpson plays a shot on the 1st hole during the third round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at the Plantation Course on Sunday, Jan, 5. Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images.

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.”

Jordan Spieth waves to the crowd on the 18th hole during round three of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at the Plantation Course Sunday, Jan. 5. Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images.

Jordan Spieth waves to the crowd on the 18th hole during round three of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at the Plantation Course Sunday, Jan. 5. Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images.

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.”

Zach Johnson plays a shot on the 13th hole during the third round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at the Plantation Course on Sunday, Jan. 5 Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images.

Zach Johnson plays a shot on the 13th hole during the third round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at the Plantation Course on Sunday, Jan. 5. Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images.

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

POSSTARTCTRYPLAYERTO PARTODAYTHRUR1R2R3R4TOT
T15Webb Simpson-14-5F667168205
T12Jordan Spieth-14-4F667069205
T12Dustin Johnson-14-4F706669205
41Zach Johnson-12+1F676674207
T513Gary Woodland-11-6F717067208
T59Jason Dufner-11-4F677269208
T59Brandt Snedeker-11-4F706969208
T57Kevin Streelman-11-3F677170208
T916Patrick Reed-10-6F707267209
T913Chris Kirk-10-5F667568209
T912Adam Scott-10-4F707069209
T1216Woody Austin-9-5F727068210
T129Ken Duke-9-2F706971210
T127Ryan Moore-9-1F677172210
T125Michael Thompson-9EF667173210
T1625Brian Gay-8-8F707665211
T1613Harris English-8-3F707170211
T162Matt Kuchar-8+2F686875211
T1920Scott Brown-7-5F717368212
T1920Billy Horschel-7-5F727268212
T2125Jimmy Walker-6-6F737367213
T2120Bill Haas-6-4F717369213
T2119Martin Laird-6-3F717270213
T2116Sang-Moon Bae-6-2F697371213
2520Russell Henley-5-3F727270214
T2625Jonas Blixt-4-4F767069215
T2624Boo Weekley-4-3F717470215
2829John Merrick-1-2F717671218
2925D.A. PointsEEF727473219
3030Derek Ernst+12+3F797676231

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