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D.J. ready to strike

Matt Cooper
Head-to-Head picks for the U.S. Open Championship on the NBC Predictor App. (Getty Images)

Recap of the day

Early Movers: Patrick Cantlay was pretty much alone in making any significant progress. His 66 left him on 8-under 205 for the week and set a target for the leaders. Perhaps also note that Alex Noren carded a second 67 of the tournament; before this week he hadn’t posted a round in the 60s since February 2nd.

Leaders: Rory Sabbatini (68) and Ian Poulter (67) eased one stroke clear of Cantlay’s total, but Dustin Johnson bested them all with a 68 for 10-under 203. Pre-round leader Shane Lowry carded three front nine birdies, but handed back all the shots on the back nine to end the day tied with Sabbatini and Poulter in a three-way share of second.

Leaderboard: -10 Dustin Johnson, -9 Ian Poulter, Rory Sabbatini, Shane Lowry, -8 Patrick Cantlay, Scott Piercy, C.T. Pan, K.J. Choi, Trey Mullinax

Notables: -7 Matt Kuchar, -6 Webb Simpson, -4 Luke Donald, -2 Kevin Kisner, -1 Ryan Moore, +1 Xander Schauffele

Low round of the day: 65 by Webb Simpson

 

Revised outright betting: Johnson 11/8, Poulter 11/2, Cantlay 9/1, Lowry 9/1, Sabbatini 12/1, Grillo 16/1

 

Sunday weather forecast

The wind will drop to around 11mph, the sun will be mostly out from behind the cloud, the temperature will be in the mid-60s and zero chance of rain.

 

Leaders after at 54 holes

Dustin Johnson (68, 203) – Good, but it could have been better. Hit the turn in 2-under, ticked a hat trick of birdies from the 13th, then immediately made back-to-back bogeys. Ranks first for SG: Off the Tee this week (6.166) and T3 for Greens in regulation (37-of-54).

Ian Poulter (67, 204) – Opened with a double bogey-6 and then thrashed four front nine, and two back nine, birdies to get within striking range. Is there courtesy of a hot putter (second for SG: Putting; 9.174).

Rory Sabbatini (68, 204) – Made the turn in 3-under and then added nine pars, but retains the opportunity to become Slovakia’s first PGA Tour winner. Ranks second for SG: Tee to Green (8.509).

Shane Lowry (71, 204) – A horrible limp home with bogeys at 13, 14 and 16. He ranks third for SG: Around the Green (3.250) and third for Scrambling (84.21%), making it a top four who are thriving thanks to entirely different skill sets.

 

Fate of the Favourites

Dustin Johnson – see above

Francesco Molinari – missed the cut

Bryson DeChambeau – missed the cut

Xander Schauffele (73, 214) – Started on the tenth and posted nine pars to the turn, then lurched home with two sixes (one bogey, one double). Just 6 of 14 fairways and 9 of 18 greens in regulation.

 

Quotes

Dustin Johnson (68) - "Last year I really enjoyed it, especially being away for so long not playing this event. I've got a really big fan base here. And growing up in South Carolina definitely helps. I'm in a good position going into tomorrow but there's a lot of guys right around the lead so I'm going to have to play really well if I want a chance to win tomorrow afternoon."

Ian Poulter (67) - "I don't put any pressure on myself anymore. It's not about the win, it's about being in contention, which I've done that a lot this year. I feel great about my game and I'm just going to go have some fun. My dad is here watching me play. And see if we can go out and do it."

Rory Sabbatini (68) - "In all honesty, I think my ball-striking might have been one of the best I've ever experienced out here."

Matt Kuchar (68) – "So it's pretty simple (tomorrow). I certainly would love to say, listen, I'm going to go out there and I'm going to shoot 64, I'd love to be able to do that. But golf is an interesting game and you don't have control over that. You try to find the fairway, try to find the green and keep going from there."

Patrick Cantlay (66) – "I'd say everything feels really good. When I first came back from being hurt my short game was lacking. Right now it feels great. And I'm really comfortable out here. I've seen the golf course a few times, which is huge, especially around a place like this. So I knew coming into the week how comfortable I was going to be with the golf course and that I liked it. Everything feels good."

Sam Burns (69) – "Actually this is one of the best weeks of my life now. I proposed to my now fiance. We've been dating about four years. I'm really excited and happy about that."

 

Road to Victory at Harbour Town

2018 Satoshi Kodaira – R1: 82nd, R2: 13th, R3: 12th

2017 Wesley Bryan – R1: 35th, R2: 10th, R3: 6th

2016 Branden Grace – R1: 1st, R2: 21st, R3: 5th

2015 Jim Furyk – R1: 36th, R2: 4th, R3: 5th

2014 Matt Kuchar – R1: 1st, R2: 4th, R3: 7th

Notes: In 17 years between 1996 and 2012 there were ten eventual winners who held the 54 hole lead (solo and shared) who converted the win. But since then? 0-for-6 and Graeme McDowell (T4) was closest to the top in spots on the leaderboard. Four of the six were four strokes back, one three and the other (Kodaira last year) six.

 

Fate of the 54-hole Leaders at Harbour Town – where did they finish?

2018 Ian Poulter – 7th

2017 Jason Dufner – 11th

2016 Luke Donald – 2nd

2015 Troy Merritt – 3rd

2014 Luke Donald – 2nd

Notes: Here’s a weird one – a very weird one. Since 1996 there has been a solo leader of this event at 54 holes every year bar one (2006) and, as the above section points out, they have a poor record in recent years. In the 21st century only seven (of 20) third round leaders broke par in the final lap.

 

Focus on – DJ with the lead

Johnson has 17 experiences of 54 hole leads in 72 hole events (solo and shared) and has claimed nine wins. Moreover, his recent instances hint at growing familiarity with the role. He has five wins in the last seven, four in the last five and three in the last three.

 

Focus on – The chasers

Poulter has three times been second on the PGA Tour after 54 holes and is yet to claim a win. Worldwide he is 2-for-18 in such situations. His greatest strength might be the memory of leading by one shot at this point 12 months ago and finishing T7.

Sabbatini is a five-time 54 hole second placed pursuer, all of them on the PGA Tour, none since 2013, and none came prior to success.

Lowry has three experiences of chasing from second after three rounds, all of them on the European Tour, none within the last five years, none resulting in victory.

 

Focus on – Patrick Cantlay

The 27-year-old has an excellent record in the third round in recent starts. It started with a 63 in the Shriner’s Hospitals for Children Open in November, continued with a 66 at the Desert Classic in January, he dipped with a 70 at the Genesis Open, returned to Saturday skills with a 65 at the Mexico Championship, thrashed a 64 at the Masters, and this week added a 66. In that stretch he has only once gone lower still in the final lap – unsurprisingly when carding that 70 at Riviera CC. In contrast, his final round record at Harbour Town is good, clocking a 67 in 2017 (for a move of 10 places up the leaderboard) and a 68 last year (worth 13 spots in the pecking order).