A fight to the finish
KAPALUA – That imaginary sound ringing through the Kapalua peninsula this morning is a bugle call for the horse race that will be the final round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
Defending champion Dustin Johnson, 20-year-old Jordan Spieth and former U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson enter the day tied for the lead at 14-under-par 205. Second-round leader Zach Johnson is two strokes back, 11 golfers are within four strokes of the lead and half of the 30-man field at the Plantation Course is within five.
Simpson carded a 5-under 68 on Sunday, while Dustin Johnson and Spieth each shot 69.
“Like I’ve always said about this golf course, you’ve got to take advantage of the par-5s,” Simpson said. “You’ve got to take advantage of the short holes. This is not a golf course, even if it’s really windy, where you can go out and shoot even par. You’ll get lapped if you do that. My goal tomorrow is to stay aggressive, try to shoot another low number, because I think it will take something like I did today or even lower.”
Dustin Johnson birdied the fifth for his eighth birdie in nine par-5s this week, but followed that with bogeys on the sixth and seventh before eagling the par-5 ninth from less than two feet. He parred the final two par-5s – including the 15th, which broke a string of six straight birdies on that hole.
“I was in great position on the par-5s on the back, 15 and 18, and made two 5s, which is very poor,” said Dustin Johnson, who is leading the field in driving distance after finishing second on the PGA Tour last season. “Other than that, I played pretty good.”
Spieth said he is learning after just one season on the PGA Tour.
“Third rounds were a struggle last year and it was mainly because of my patience,” Spieth said. “So today, even when I didn’t play the easy holes as well as I wanted to, I felt like I stayed patient and then got a good birdie on 17 there, a closing save. I had a nice turnaround on 8 after a bogey (on No. 6) to birdie that hole. I think that was kind of the spark of the day for me on a really difficult par-3, birdie 8 and 9 to get back on track and just grabbed a couple more.”
Spieth had a 33-foot eagle putt on No. 5 that he left six feet short. He started walking as if he missed the birdie putt, but it went in as he moved to 11 under, drawing a chuckle from caddie Michael Greller.
Zach Johnson’s birdie on the first hole was his first on a par-5 since Friday – he is just 4 under on the par-5s this week, three of which are playing as the easiest holes on the course.
Zach Johnson lost the outright lead with his first bogey in 39 holes, on the 14th when he barely missed a 20-footer to fall into a tie at 13 under with Spieth and Simpson. Dustin Johnson birdied the 14th to make it a four-way tie on top.
Two holes later, Zach Johnson bogeyed the 16th to fall out of the lead. The longest putt he made on Sunday was a five-footer on No. 1. He had 24 one-putts through 47 holes before he lipped out on No. 12 for birdie.
“I feel like I left quite a bit out there,” Zach Johnson said. “At the same time, I didn’t feel like I played that bad either. Hit some good shots I didn’t get anything out of, didn’t make any putts today and a couple errant drives that cost me on the back nine.”
Dustin Johnson had the longest drives on seven different holes Sunday, including a 364-yarder on the 18th, and led the day with a 310-yard average.
“I mean, I need to go out and just take advantage of the par-5s – got to play those well,” Dustin Johnson said. “And then, yeah, I think it’s going to take 6 or 7 under (in the final round to win). That would be my guess. You can shoot that in any weather out here pretty much if you get it going.”
Dustin Johnson is 30 under for his last six rounds at Kapalua, including his 54-hole dash to the title last season when he won on a Tuesday after severe weather wiped out the first three scheduled days of play.
Simpson had a 381-yard drive on No. 12, the longest of the day, but is ranked 17th in driving this week, with a 273.2-yard average. Spieth is 10th with a 276-yard average and Dustin Johnson is at 304.7.
“It’s tough,” Simpson said. “A hole like 18 when I can’t get home and it turns into a pretty tough third shot where they are hitting it plenty far, so it is tough. Patience is huge.”
Spieth, who will be in the final pairing with Simpson, has a lead going to the final round for the first time as a professional.
“I’m excited about it and it’s going to be a fun time tomorrow to get to play with Webb I think for the third time again this week,” Spieth said. “We were able to feed off each other in the first round and yesterday, and hopefully can do it tomorrow.”
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org