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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 6 March 2021

Dustin Johnson in pole position to win second Saudi International title

American world No 1 holds a two-shot lead heading into the final round at the Royal Greens Golf and Country Club

Dustin Johnson carded a 4-under-par 66 for his third round at the Saudi International. Getty Images
Dustin Johnson carded a 4-under-par 66 for his third round at the Saudi International. Getty Images

Dustin Johnson continued his peerless play at the Saudi International powered by Softbank Investment Advisers on Saturday to sit in pole position for a second victory there in three years.

The world No 1, the tournament’s inaugural winner in 2019 and runner-up last year, carded a 4-under-par 66 at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club to finish 13-under. It gave Johnson a two-shot lead going into the final day.

Frenchman Victor Perez represents the American's closet challenger, on 11-under, while Tyrrell Hatton, Tony Finau, Andy Sullivan and Soren Kjeldsen sit one further back. Another seven players are within four of the summit, including former Masters champion Sergio Garcia and two-time major winner Martin Kaymer.

Johnson, who was out early on Saturday to finish off his second round – the tournament has been interrupted by rain – birdied four of the first 10 holes in his third round, before a double-bogey on 13 stopped him in his tracks.

However, the reigning Masters champion recovered from his first drop shots in 54 holes in Saudi to birdie the final two, making him very much the man to beat come Sunday.

Reflecting on his superior form in the kingdom, Johnson said, without a hint of understatement: “I like the golf course. I think it sets up good for me. I've liked it since the first time I came here a couple years ago. I feel like I'm swinging it well and giving myself all the chances tomorrow. Just need to hole a few putts.”

A two-time major winner, Johnson said he has struggled somewhat to read the greens this week. Improve on that and a ninth European Tour title looks likely to be his, setting him up well for what promises to be a huge year in golf.

“It's always good to win no matter when it is,” Johnson said. “But yeah, it definitely would give me a lot of confidence for the rest of the year. It's a really good field. I'd definitely be very pleased. It's a pretty big golf tournament."

Johnson will be accompanied on Sunday by Perez, who set the early clubhouse lead with a bogey-free 66. The world No 35 is looking for a second win on tour after his success at the 2019 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

To his credit, Perez said he is relishing going up against the world’s highest-ranked player in King Abdullah Economic City.

“That's as good as it gets,” he said. “I'll be very excited for the challenge. I think this is all you strive for. The tour is doing great at having some of those great players being here and playing and giving us the chance, mostly staying in Europe the last two years, playing against those guys. It will be a great competition.

“Obviously will need to make some putts tomorrow. I don't know what the weather is going to be like, but even if it's good, somebody is going to have put a low one to win. And if it's going to be windy, it's going to be a grind coming down the stretch for sure.”

Johnson and Perez will most probably be wary of the likes of Hatton lurking not far back. The Englishman, who won in Abu Dhabi last month to climb to fifth in the global rankings, has been quick out of the blocks this season, and posted a 66 on Saturday to maintain that form.

"With the Ryder Cup points starting, it's key to get off to a fast start and obviously Abu Dhabi was amazing," Hatton said. "Everyone's naturally a little bit rusty when you start the year, so to nick a win is always a good start.

“Just try to go out and put a good round of golf together – what we do every time we tee it up – and tomorrow is going to be no different."

Published: February 6, 2021 08:40 PM

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