St. Jude Classic 2018: Dustin Johnson goes for win No. 18 after solid Round 3
TPC Southwind is teeming with storylines even with a pre-major championship field
Dustin Johnson and Andrew Putnam are tied at 15 under after the third round of the 2018 FedEx St. Jude Classic on Saturday. Johnson shot a 5-under 65 while Putnam filled it up with a 6-under 64. Those two are five clear of Stewart Cink, who sits alone in third (more on him in a minute).
Putnam is a good story and has made his last seven cuts in a row. Sunday is a big day for him for a number of reasons. A win would mean he wouldn't have to play the Web.com Tour for a long time after toiling there (and on other tours) on an off for the last decade. Even a runner-up finish would mean a ton of money, FedEx Cup points and world ranking points, all important to somebody playing just the 44th event of his career (19 of which have come this year).
But the focus will be on D.J. There will be a lot at stake for him, too, albeit much different stakes when he tees it up on Sunday in the final round at TPC Southwind. Johnson will be going for the 18th win of his career, one closer that magic number of 20, which means PGA Tour exemption for life. It would also mean Johnson would reclaim the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Rankings from Justin Thomas heading into the U.S. Open at Shinnecock next week.
Johnson opened Saturday with a ho-hum on the front nine, going out in 34. Then he galloped a bit on the back side, though he opened with birdies in four of his first seven holes. A par-par close means he'll tee it up in the final pairing on Sunday for a chance at his second win at this tournament (he also won in 2012). It might get buried a bit by the fact that the U.S. Open is next week, but to me that would highlight its importance.
D.J., for all his fame and fortune, is still probably underrated. He hasn't won since January (as if that were a long time) even though he's No. 1 on the PGA Tour in a number of relevant categories.
A win here would put him squarely back in the spotlight going to Shinnecock (which is actually not where I want him given that I'm considering making him my pick) and would reinstate the idea that, even with a dozen Hall of Fame golfers in or around their peak powers, Johnson's giddy-up might be the greatest giddy-up. Sunday won't tell us much about D.J. -- he long ago cemented his ability to win tournaments -- but it might be a reminder that he's probably the best and most consistent player in the game right now.
Three other takeaways from Saturday's third round.
1. Phil Mickelson scuffling a bit: There is good news for Mickelson, but let's get to the bad news first. Lefty is trending in the wrong direction after a 66-70-73 start at what he says is one of the most underrated courses on the PGA Tour. Mickelson was 4 over through his first 11 holes on Saturday before righting the ship a bit coming home.
Still, it was not his best effort at a place where he's scored top-five finishes in three of the last five years. Now for the good news. He doesn't have a curse to worry about breaking next week (well, he has one but he doesn't have more than that).
2. Stewart Cink? Stewart Cink! Cink's best finish since January is a T31 at the Valspar Championship in March, so forgive my incredulity over his third place spot after three rounds at TPC Southwind. Cink is in position to legitimately contend for what would be his first victory on the PGA Tour since the 2009 Open Championship, and he used the best shot of the day on Saturday to get there.
3. Amateur Rocking: Braden Thornberry recently announced that he was going to return for his senior year at Ole Miss. Lucky for Ole Miss. Thornberry contended at the St. Jude Classic in 2017 when he finished T4, and he's doing so again this year. Thornberry shot a 65 on Saturday to get into the top 15 and set himself up for a backdoor top 10.
I always love it when ams contend at random PGA Tour events (see: Jon Rahm at the 2015 Phoenix Open), and even though it would take something extraordinary for Thornberry to win on Sunday, his story will still be a fun one to follow.
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