Following his second round at the 51st annual RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing on Friday, Dustin Johnson lamented his inability to solve the greens at Harbour Town Golf Links.
One day later, he figured something out. Just don’t ask him what it was.
“I wish I knew the secret, but I don’t,” Johnson said. “I just keep hitting them. Try to pick a line, trust it, and if it goes in, it goes in.”
A bunch of them went in on Saturday, as Johnson shot 3-under-par 68 on a blustery day at Harbour Town to climb to 10-under and take a one-shot lead into the final round.
Johnson, the top-ranked player in the world, is one shot ahead of Ian Poulter, Rory Sabbatini, and 36-hole leader Shane Lowry and two shots clear of a group of six players.
Lowry was cruising around the front nine, making birdies on both par-5s and at the par-4 9th to get to 12-under and open up a three-shot lead, but he began to falter midway through his second nine. He found the bunker at the par-4 13th and made bogey, then hit his tee shot at the par-3 14th in the water and had to sink a 25-footer for bogey. After missing a birdie try at the par-5 15th, Lowry made another bogey at the par-4 16th before closing out with two pars to stay within a shot of the lead going into Sunday.
Meanwhile, Johnson found his putting stroke and ran in three straight birdies — an 18-footer at No. 13, a 47-foot bomb at No. 14, and a 13-footer at the par-5 15th — to move ahead by two. He gave a shot back at the par-4 16th, then another at the par-3 17th before getting up-and-down with a shaky 3-footer to close out a 3-under-par 68.
“I didn’t have my best stuff, but I made some really nice putts there through the middle of the round and kind of kept my round going,” Johnson said. “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.”
Poulter’s day got off to an inauspicious start with a double-bogey at the par-4 1st hole after he yanked his opening tee shot out of bounds, but he wasted no time getting back on track. The Englishman made four birdies over the next eight holes, then two more coming in to work his way back into contention.
Poulter will be in the final pairing on Sunday for the second straight year. He held the 54-hole lead a year ago before sliding to a tie for seventh.
“I’m just going to go out and have fun, you know?,” Poulter said. “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. I’ll see if we can go out and do it.”
Sabbatini quietly hung around the lead all afternoon, surging to 9-under with back-to-back birdies to close out his first nine and then plodding around the back with nine consecutive pars. That kind of steady play might be just what is needed on Sunday if Harbour Town’s swirling winds continue to play havoc.
“This golf course showed some teeth out there today. It was not a lot of fun,” Sabbatini said. “It was a lot of grinding and a lot of being patient out there. And that’s what this course typically entails. But today with the conditions it really put it at a premium.”