Golf: Johnson confident Masters will end his 54-hole lead curse

He has a four-stroke advantage at Augusta over Im, Smith and Ancer

Dustin Johnson of the United States lines up a putt on the ninth green during the third round. PHOTO: AFP

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA (AFP) - Dustin Johnson has squandered his four prior 54-hole leads at Major golf tournaments, but the world No. 1 is confident he will end that streak by winning the Masters.

Johnson fired a bogey-free seven-under par 65 on Saturday (Nov 14) to seize a four-stroke lead entering Sunday's final round at Augusta National in pursuit of his second Major title after the 2016 US Open.

The 36-year-old American has led four times after 54 holes in Majors and failed to win any of them, stumbling at the 2010, 2015 and 2018 US Opens and in August at the 2020 PGA Championship, where he settled for a runner-up spot.

"If I can play like I did today, I think it will break that streak," Johnson said. "It's just 18 holes of golf. I need to go out and play solid.

"I feel like I'm swinging really well. If I can just continue to give myself a lot of looks at birdie, I think I'll have a good day."

Having grown up only an hour's drive north of Augusta, donning the green jacket symbolic of Masters supremacy would have extra significance for Johnson.

"It would mean a lot," he said.

"It's the Masters, a Major. I grew up right down the road. So this one would be very special to me."

He sees his 19 prior top-10 Major finishes with only one triumph as seasoning to prepare him for Sunday's back-nine battle rather than a sign of futility.

"I put myself in the situation a lot of times. I know what it takes," he said.

"I know how I respond in this situation. I'm very comfortable with having the lead going into tomorrow.

"I've been in this situation a lot of times. I'm looking forward to the challenge. It's still going to be a tough day. I'm going to have to play well if I want to get it done."

His 16-under 200 matched the 54-hole Masters record set by Jordan Spieth in 2015 and he is the first player to shoot 65 or better twice in the same Masters.

That gives him a four-stroke edge over South Korea's Im Sung-jae, Australian Cameron Smith and Mexico's Abraham Ancer - all seeking their first Major title.

"Anyone with a four-shot lead is expected to win," Smith said.

"You know there are going to be plenty of boys firing tomorrow."

Johnson, the PGA Player of the Year, has won or been second in five of his past six starts, including a victory at the Tour Championship.

After finishing sixth at the US Open in September, he contracted Covid-19 last month and missed two events, but was a runner-up last week at Houston.

"The game is in really good form right now," Johnson said.

"It's just very consistent. I feel like I've got a lot of control what I'm doing, controlling my distance well with my flight and my shape."

Johnson, a runner-up in three of the past six Majors including last year's Masters, has taken advantage of rain-softened conditions to be aggressive when opportunities allow.

"I've got a good game plan. I'm not going to change it," he said.

His best Masters round before this week was a 67, a tribute to what he has learned over the years at Augusta.

"My first few Masters, I just didn't play the course very well," he said.

"But I feel like every year, I kind of learned something, figured out a little bit more about the course, how to play it. The more I play it, the more comfortable I get."

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