Unflappable Johnson leads by four in search of second US Open title

Dustin Johnson of the United States waves to the crowd after making a birdie on the seventh hole during the second round of the 2018 US Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on June 15, 2018 in Southampton, New York
AFP

Southampton (United States) (AFP) – Dustin Johnson, halfway home to a second US Open golf championship, wasn’t taking anything for granted as he took a four-shot lead into Saturday’s third round at Shinnecock Hills.

At four-under par, the world number one was the only player in red figures through 36 holes, his imperturbable calm impressing as much as his booming drives, precise iron shots and superb putting.

Shinnecock, the classic course on New York’s Long Island that is hosting the US Open for the fifth time, exacted a heavy toll this week.

Johnson’s four-under total is the highest 36-hole total in relation to par to lead the US Open since Johnson himself led with the same total on the way to victory at Oakmont in 2016.

The cut at eight-over 148 was the highest since 2013 at Merion and claimed such luminaries as 14-time major champion Tiger Woods, four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, three-time major winner Jordan Spieth, former world number ones Jason Day and Adam Scott and former Masters champions Bubba Watson and Sergio Garcia.

Most were undone on the opening day, when wind whipping across the par 70 course pushed scores up to an average of 76.4 strokes.

Johnson said he was in trouble a few times on Thursday, but he worked his way through it with the aim of keeping the double and triple bogeys off his card.

“It’s limit the mistakes,” he said. “Especially the big numbers — I never want to make doubles.”

He said he’d take the same mindset into Saturday, when he was due to tee of at 3:10 pm (1910 GMT) alongside Scott Piercy — who got into the 156-man field as an alternate and posted rounds of 69 and 71 to share second on even par 140 with fellow American Charley Hoffman.

England’s Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose and Ian Poulter, defending champion Brooks Koepka and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson shared fourth on one-over.

Fleetwood and Koepka showed good scores could be had with four-under par 66s in the second round.

But the dangers at Shinnecock are ever-present.

“He’s a hole away from putting everyone back into it,” insisted Rose. “That’s the mentality you have to have.”

So far, however, it’s Johnson’s pursuers who have faltered.

Poulter closed within one stroke of Johnson on Friday, only to drop four strokes in his last two holes.

Johnson, meanwhile, marched on, playing what world number two Justin Thomas called characteristic “DJ golf”.

“He drives the ball really well. His distance control with his irons is great. He’s a very, very underrated bunker player. And he’s putting the ball well. So, he pretty much has it all covered,” Thomas said.

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