AUGUSTA, Ga. — When Dustin Johnson’s playing partner on Saturday, Jon Rahm, missed a putt for par at the final hole that would have given him a 1-under 71 for the day and left him six back of D.J. going into Sunday’s final round, he balled his fist and punched himself in the hip. Rahm knew that any sliver of a chance he had of running down Johnson was probably gone.
“I’ve got to hope to shoot a miracle score to have a chance,” Rahm said afterward.
He’s not the only one. There are eight players at 9 under or better, which is great after three rounds at Augusta National. What’s not great is that they’re all at least four strokes back of Johnson, who looks poised to lap the field. Though he’s blown 54-hole leads at majors before, Johnson has only shot over par one of the four times he’s held a major lead after three rounds.
But let’s pretend like Johnson blows up and fires something in the mid-70s. In that scenario, there is a path for any of these guys (plus one other) to catch him. If Johnson is under par, it’s probably over. But if he shoots 73 or 74, he can be caught. Here are the golfers behind him from the most to least likely to track him down.
1. Sungjae Im (4 back): Staring down Tommy Fleetwood at the Honda Classic in February is a bit different than staring down Dustin Johnson at the Masters in November, but he’s got plenty of game. I also kind of like that he’s playing alongside D.J. in the last group.
2. Abraham Ancer (4 back): Another guy who’s fearless and has been second to D.J. from tee to green so far this week. He crushed at the Presidents Cup last fall and actually beat Johnson fourball matchup. Doesn’t mean much 11 months later, but the point is that he’s not going to cower when he steps on the first tee.
3. Justin Thomas (6 back): There’s a 65 or 64 in there somewhere. The question is whether he can find it and whether it will even be enough. Fourth this week from tee to green. He has to make putts — probably a lot of them — early.
4. Cameron Smith (4 back): Really strong game. I just wonder if it’s “run down D.J. on Sunday at Augusta” strong.
5. Dylan Frittelli (5 back): The only guy in the top 10 other than Rory McIlroy who has shot anything over par this week. He’s never had a top 20 at a major championship in nine tries.
6. Jon Rahm (7 back): He knew he needed to be four or five back and said he worked his ass off to get something under par in the house on Saturday. The good news is that the game is in great shape, and he was thrown off by a couple of bad breaks in Round 3. I would be stunned if he didn’t shoot something under par on Sunday.
7. Patrick Reed (7 back): He faded hard coming home on Saturday as he bogeyed the last two to prevent what could have been the most legitimate charge at D.J. in the final round. He’ll go down swinging, but his game is not really built to run down Johnson.
8. Rory McIlroy (8 back): Listen, I was there in 2018 when Jordan Spieth was nine back going into Sunday, shot 64 and bogeyed the last to finish two back. It can be done, and if somebody has a 63 or something even more special in them, McIlroy is the most likely candidate.