It was a big day for the Canadians at Augusta National. The only problem was it was an even bigger day for Dustin Johnson.
Johnson, who could be considered an honourary Canadian – he’s a past winner of the RBC Canadian Open, and is engaged to Paulina Gretzky, daughter of Wayne – leads by four heading into Sunday’s finale at the Masters.
The 23-time PGA Tour winner shot a 7-under 65 in round three – becoming the first person in tournament history to shoot multiple rounds of 65 or better at the Masters.
“I feel like I’m swinging it well. I have a lot of confidence in what I’m doing. Everything is going well,” Johnson told CBS after his round. “I’m driving it well. Hitting a lot of good iron shots.
“Today I definitely was in control of my game and my golf ball.”
Much of the conversation prior to the Masters was wrapped in Bryson DeChambeau and how far he was going to bash it around Augusta National. The only thing Johnson provided the media was that his favourite "tradition" (if you can call it that) around the Masters is the sandwiches. “All of them,” he said.
But Johnson doesn’t need to experiment with longer clubs or speed-increasing diets. He already hits it longer than almost anyone on the planet – and that’s good enough. Through three rounds at the Masters he’s in the top 10 in Driving Distance, but he’s also around the same mark in Greens in Regulation and Putting Average.
It’s been as complete a performance by Johnson as you can have at Augusta National, but it shouldn’t have been all that surprising. Historically, he loves the place – his 65 Saturday marked his 10th-straight round under par at the Masters, tying Tiger Woods for the longest streak all time. And his last couple of results on the PGA Tour go like this: T2-1-2-1-T6.
Although Johnson had COVID-19 and was on the sidelines for 11 days (as in he stayed in a hotel room alone for that entire time, just binge-watching TV shows), he returned to form quickly last week in Houston, adding another T2 to his impressive late-2020 run.
Whereas DeChambeau tried to make Augusta National a science experiment, Johnson knows it needs to be equal parts science and art project – and so far he’s painting a masterpiece.
What will keep the door open for the chasers in the final round is Johnson’s Sunday struggles at past major championships.
For someone who has won at such a prolific clip on the PGA Tour, he has only one major to his credit, the 2016 U.S. Open. He’s 0-for-4 after taking at least a share of the lead into the final round of a major – the only person in golf history not to close out at least one of four 54-hole major championship leads.
Luckily Augusta National is made for scoring on Sunday, as the chasers will need to keep the pedal down early and often. And, there is a laundry-list of golf’s biggest names trying to track down Johnson – Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, and Brooks Koepka, all former world No. 1s, are in the top 10.
But the only problem is that Johnson is looking unstoppable, his lead over that foursome is six, seven, and eight shots, respectively.
The trio of Canadians left in the field may not be able to chase down Johnson and win the Green Jacket, but there is still much to be celebrated for them this week at Augusta National.
Corey Conners leads the Canadian crew heading into Sunday. He’s T15 after a 1-under 71 in the third round. Earlier Saturday, Conners, who had only Nos. 8 and 9 left to play in his second round, birdied both en route to a 7-under 65 – the lowest round shot by a Canadian in the history of the Masters.
“It’s a pretty big honour,” said Conners of his second round. “There have obviously been some great Canadians who have played here.
“It was definitely one of the better rounds of my career.”
Conners does have something to shoot for on Sunday: if he finishes inside the top-12 he’ll earn a spot in the 2021 Masters. Augusta National has a special exemption category for those not already in the field for the following year – the top-12 and ties get in.
“It’s really more about, ‘let’s have a really good tournament.’ It would be nice, when you’re playing well, to have a great week,” Conners’ coach Derek Ingram told Sportsnet from Augusta, Ga., about what Conners’ game plan is for Sunday.
Ingram has been on site with Conners all week. About eight weeks ago he and Conners switched to putting with his left hand lower than his right. It was a big change for someone who is usually risk-adverse. But statistically Conners is one of the worst putters on the PGA Tour, so it was time for a change.
This week his world-class ball striking is being complemented by some improved work on the greens – and the result is showing on the leaderboard.
“It’s been a discussion point for us the last two or three years and we just felt like it was time for a change to see if we could get better in that area and he was definitely open to it,” Ingram said.
“We put in a lot of hard work. Well, he did. He did all the work and we started to see the fruits of his labour the last four weeks.”
Nick Taylor and Mike Weir were the other two Canadians to play rounds two and three this year after Adam Hadwin missed the cut. Taylor and Weir, the 2003 Masters winner, played together in the third round, with Taylor shooting a 3-under 69 while Weir shot a 1-under 71.
For Taylor, he’s climbing the leaderboard in his Masters debut, and got to play a tournament round with Weir – a past champion and one of his childhood heroes.
Weir, meanwhile, is going through a bit of a renaissance after turning 50 in May. He has three top-10 results on PGA Tour Champions this season and told Sportsnet prior to the Masters that it’s the best he’s felt going into the tournament in a decade.
He’s proven that so far this week. For the first time since 2006, Weir has shot at least two rounds under par at the Masters. If he adds another under-par score Sunday, it’ll be the first time in 15 years where three of his four Masters rounds would be in red figures.
So we’re about to have a solid group of Canadians playing all four rounds at the Masters with different things to play for, the world No. 1 looking to have a record-breaking week, and a big-time group of world-beaters trying to give chase.
It’s nearly Sunday at Augusta National, and in a year when almost nothing has been the same, there is still some excitement in the air for golf fans at the Masters – and that’s as familiar a feeling as any.