Dustin Johnson has never been the easiest golfer to pin down. His physical gifts are undeniable. His mental acumen is, shall we say, unreliable. His inner desire is often unidentifiable.
There are days you wonder how Johnson hasn’t won a handful of major championships already. There are other days you can’t believe he won one at all.
In the last month, Johnson won the Travelers Championship. In his next three competitive rounds he shot 80-80-78. Then he finished tied for 12th in the WGC last week.
This week at TPC Harding Park, DJ has shot 69-67-65 to sit 9-under par with a one-shot lead heading into Sunday’s final round of the PGA Championship.
Young Americans Scottie Scheffler and Cameron Champ are both 8-under with to-time defending champion Brooks Koepka, Paul Casey and Collin Morikawa to off the lead at 7-under.
The crowd at 6-under includes Justin Rose, Jason Day, Bryson DeChambeau, Tommy Fleetwood, Tony Finau and Daniel Berger.
With so many quality players within three shots of the lead on a course that keeps getting harder yet is willing to yield low rounds, Johnson said he doesn’t plan on paying any attention to the leaderboards despite the lack of spectator noise giving any sense of what might be going on in front of him.
“Yeah, I'm going to try my best not to do that,” Johnson said of the scoreboard watching that nearly every other player said would be more critical than ever on Sunday.
“All I can do is go out and play my game and shoot the best number I can. I'm going to just try and go out and shoot as low as I can just like I did today.
"You know, just take what the golf course gives me and just keep on going because, you know, it doesn't really matter what other guys are doing. All I can control is myself.”
Johnson major championship history is the stuff of novels. He’s imploded at Pebble Beach, been penalized out of a playoff at Whistling Straits, made untimely mistakes at Royal St. Georges and come up short at Augusta National.
Even his one major win in the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont came despite a controversial delayed ruling that he made moot by just dominating down the stretch.
While not one to dwell on the past, Johnson believes his experience should serve him well against a cast of contenders made mostly of players trying to break their major maiden.
“Well, those, I was definitely younger,” he said of his past disappointments.
“I have been out here awhile now. I've been in contention a lot, and I've got it done a lot of times. Tomorrow, it's no different.
"I'm going to have to play good golf if I want to win. It's simple – I've got to hit a lot of and a lot of greens.
"If I can do that, I'm going to have a good chance coming down the stretch on the back nine.”
The biggest threat, of course, is one of his closest friends on tour, Koepka. Late birdies at 16 and 18 on Saturday put him right where he wants to be as he seeks to become the only golfer currently alive to win the same major three consecutive years.
With four major titles and nobody else within reasonable striking range with more than one major win, does Koepka believe it’s harder to win a second one?
“Well, if you look at the top of the leaderboard, I'd say yes,” Koepka said in typically blunt fashion.
"But the second one definitely is a little bit tougher, I think, as you can see from the top of the leaderboard.”
Koepka seemed to be wilting with three consecutive bogeys on 13-15 before bouncing back with the late birdies.
“I'm playing good so I like my chances,” Koepka said. “I feel very comfortable around the lead in the big events.”
Fleetwood played in the last group Saturday with 36-hole leader Haotong Li. Neither could get anything going until Fleetwood also made birdies on 16 and 18 to get back to even for the day and still close.
Li shot 73 and slipped in a tie for 13 th at 5-under.
Rose, Day and Berger all shot even-par Saturday as well while DeChambeau shot 66 and Finau 67 to join them all at 6-under to be poised to make a move on Sunday.
DeChambeau drained a 96-foot putt on the final hole, the longest putt he said he’s ever made competitively, to cap off an electric afternoon that included seven birdies and three bogeys.
“As much as I try and bring it down to a science, I love (golf) because of the randomness, because I'm trying to figure it out and sometimes those weird things happen, and good and bad, and you've just got to laugh them off,” he said of his grand finish.
DeChambeau is a wild card Sunday with his bulked up body and aggressive swing. He said, however, that with a chance to win his first major on the line he’ll need to use more strategy on Sunday than brute force.
“It's a major championship so you have to be more tactical,” he said. “I said this week I felt like the rough isn't that penalizing; well, it is now.
"It grew and they haven't cut it, so that's a major, right. I've been a little more tactical certain areas but I just feel like I have to clean up my iron play.
"I made some really dumb mistakes with my irons, and if I get that under control and drive it like I did, putt like I did, I think I'll give myself a chance.”
He said regardless of the how Sunday ends up, he believes this week shows he’s on the right track.
“This is the first major with this new body, new swing,” he said. “I hope it's only going to get better.”
Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy got it to 3-under through 12 holes before making four bogeys in the last six holes to shoot 71 and sit tied for 43rd at even par for the week.
Shane Lowry shot 69 on Saturday to sit tied for 34th at 1-under.
Neither will have a chance to add to their major wins this week and will finish their weeks playing with Kurt Kitayama and Nate Lashley instead of the heavyweights.
Tiger Woods shot a 72 on Saturday to fall to 2-over for the week and is tied for 59th.
Jordan Spieth, who needs to win a PGA to complete his career slam, shot a 76 Saturday and is tied for last with Sung Kang at 7-over.