Johnson, who spectacularly eagled the par-five ninth after hitting
a four-iron 211 yards to within two feet of the pin, fired a
four-under-par 69 in sunny but breezy conditions at the picturesque
He had a chance to seize the outright lead at the par-five last but
narrowly missed his birdie attempt from 15 feet to finish at
14-under 205, level with fellow Americans Webb Simpson (68) and
Jordan Spieth (69).
Overnight leader Zach Johnson was two ahead of the chasing pack with
seven holes to play but bogeyed 14 and 16 on the way to a 74 and
fourth place at 12-under.
Dustin Johnson won last year's title, his seventh on the PGA Tour,
by three shots in a tournament reduced to three rounds and forced to
a rare Tuesday finish because of relentless howling winds at the
He began Sunday's third round three strokes off the pace and
launched his timely surge up the leaderboard with his stunning eagle
at the ninth.
"I hit a great drive down there right to the end of the fairway and
had a good number, 211 (yards) with uphill," Johnson told Golf
Channel. "I just hit a great four-iron right at the flag and it
ended up being pretty close."
Asked how he would attempt to close the deal in Monday's final round
in pursuit of his ninth PGA Tour victory, Johnson replied: "I've got
to take advantage of the par-fives.
"Today, I made a birdie and an eagle but I parred the two on the
back nine which is poor for me, especially (after) hitting good
Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open champion, birdied four of the last seven
holes to set the clubhouse lead at 14 under.
"That was really good," said the 28-year-old, who clinched his
fourth PGA Tour win at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in
Las Vegas three months ago.
"I feel like I am getting a little more comfortable with what I am
working each day... and I was able to capitalize on those holes
where you need to make birdie.
"I've just got to stay patient (on Monday). If you don't get it
going early, you've got plenty of opportunities on the back (nine)."
[to top of second column]
Matt Kuchar made the first significant move of the day among the
leaders, birdies at the fourth and fifth putting him at 12
under, just a stroke behind the pacesetting Zach Johnson.
However, Johnson picked up a shot with a two-putt birdie at the
par-five fifth to edge two ahead, then regained his three-stroke
advantage when Kuchar bogeyed the par-three eighth.
Spieth, the 2013 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, trimmed the
deficit to two with birdies at the eighth and ninth before being
joined at 12 under by power hitter Dustin Johnson, who eagled
the ninth and birdied the 10th.
Zach Johnson squandered a good opportunity to extend his lead
when he missed an eight-footer for birdie at the 12th, and
Spieth and Simpson closed in at 13 under with respective birdies
at the 14th and 15th.
Johnson ran up his first bogey in 39 holes when he overhit the
green with his second shot at the driveable par-four 14th and
failed to get up and down from the rough to save par.
That briefly dropped him back into a share of the lead before
Simpson knocked in a six-footer to birdie the 16th and move one
Zach Johnson also bogeyed the par-four 16th after a wayward tee
shot ended up in an unplayable lie, while Dustin Johnson and
Spieth, at the 16th and 17th, rolled in 15-footers to join
Simpson in a three-way tie at the top.
Masters champion Adam Scott of Australia, the world number two
and highest-ranked player in the elite field of 30, fired a 69
to end the day at 10 under, four strokes off the pace.
The Hyundai Tournament of Champions is the opening event of the
year on the PGA Tour, but the seventh in the new wraparound
season for 2013-14.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los
Angeles; editing by John O'Brien)
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