English trio chase Dustin Johnson and history in mad dash for season’s first major

James Corrigan
·3 min read
Dustin Johnson watches his tee shot on the 12th hole during the third round - AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
Dustin Johnson watches his tee shot on the 12th hole during the third round - AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

No fans but so many contenders. Dustin Johnson leads going into the final round of the 102nd USPGA Championship but a veritable legion of pursuers means that the season’s first major could prove the most hotly contested in recent memory.

Johnson, the world No 5, must be the favourite after a 65, the best score of the day, took him to nine-under and into a one-shot advantage over fellow Americans Scottie Scheffler and Cameron Champ.

However, if Harding Park has proved anything over the last three days it is that nothing stays the same for very long on this mischievous layout and that those on seven-under, six-under and perhaps even five-under and four-under will fancy their chances. So that means 20 players  in touch and any number of delicious storylines.

Johnson’s tale would be juicy enough, especially as his supposed friend Brooks Koepka dangled the carrot so provocatively, if not cruelly, on Saturday night. The fact Johnson has only one major to his name is one of the absurdities of the professional male game, a fact Koepka was only too quick to reference when asked if the second major on the CV is the hardest earned.

“Well, if you look at the top of the leaderboard, I'd say yes," Koepka replied. Ouch!

But then, Koepka is invested in Johnson failing. If Koepka, on seven-under after a 69, can prevail he will become the first player in history to win three successive USPGA strokeplay crowns. The 30-year-old was not at his best on Saturday, but is clearly content to be in the mix up.

“I like my chances,” Koepka, the four-time major champion, said. “When I've been in this position before, I've capitalised. I don't know, he’s [Johnson’s] only won one. I'm playing good. I don't know, we'll see. I feel very comfortable around the lead in the big events.

“Obviously we don't have fans here, which makes it a little different when they're hooting and hollering. It can be fun if they're cheering for you, but if they're against you it's not so much fun. It's going to feel completely different than any one we've ever played. I'm looking forward to it tomorrow. It should be a fun shootout.”

England has its own reasons to dust off the record books; just in case. In a third round during which the San Francisco course veered from the seemingly generous to the downright miserly, Paul Casey got it to seven-under following a 68, while Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood are on six-under after both firing 70.

England has not hailed a USPGA winner in 101 years, the longest by far of any of the male majors. That is a mighty strong trio. Could this be the day the barren run ends?

It is truly an enticing thought, but with the crack young American Collin Morikawa on seven-under and with Tony Finau and Bryson DeChambeau on six-under there are so many potential first-time winners on a public layout that has plainly excelled on its first time as a major venue.

The madness of it all was perhaps best summed up by DeChambeau holing a 95 footer for a birdie on the 18th for a 66. The "Incredible Bulk" is supposed to be the longest driver in the world, not the longest putter.

Anything could happen on a major Sunday for which, after a 13-month wait, the men’s game has craved.

Follow the fourth round here: