Dubai: American Dustin Johnson looked set to make it two Saudi International titles in the first three years of the youthful European Tour competition. He recovered from a double-bogey to record a birdie-birdie finish and get himself to the top of the leaderboard on a hectic moving day on Saturday, where many players had to complete their second rounds in the early hours following a thunder storm on Friday.
While his closest rivals crumbled, ‘DJ’ kept his cool to take a two-stroke lead over France’s Victor Perez going into Sunday’s final round.
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Johnson birdied the final hole when the second round resumed to move to within one shot of halfway leaders Ryan Fox and Stephen Gallacher before upping his game when his third round got under way after a quick rest.
The 36-year-old American, who won the inaugural edition of the tournament in 2019 and was runner-up last year, looked to be cruising until a double-bogey on 14 dropped him back into the pack. However he added birdies on 17 and 18 to re-establish his dominance with a six-birdie 66 to take him to 13-under. Gallacher (72) and Fox (71) dropping down the ranks, and Perez took second spot on his own with a bogey-free 66.
In joint-third, there is an interesting group, including Abu Dhabi Champion Tyrrell Hatton. The Englishman’s 66 took him alongside compatriot Andy Sullivan, Denmark’s Soren Kjeldsen and American Tony Finau.
“I drove it well and hit a lot of really good iron shots in there to give myself a lot of good chances at birdie,” said Johnson. “I didn't hole a whole lot of putts but finishing nicely definitely helped the day out. 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. It's a pretty big golf tournament, and it will definitely give me a lot of confidence for the rest of the year.”
Perez added: “I think obviously I will need to make some putts tomorrow. I don't know what the weather is going to be like. 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. I'll be very excited for the challenge. I think this is all you strive for.”
-13 Dustin Johnson (USA) 67 64 66
-11 Victor Perez (France) 67 66 66
-10 Tony Finau (USA) 68 65 67
-10 Tyrrell Hatton (England) 67 67 66
-10 Soren Kjeldsen (Denmark) 69 66 65
-10 Andy Sullivan (England) 66 66 68
-9 George Coetzee (South Africa) 66 70 65
-9 Ryan Fox (New Zealand) 65 65 71
-9 Sergio Garcia (Spain) 70 67 64
-9 Calum Hill (Scotland) 65 68 68
-9 David Horsey (England) 61 71 69
-9 Viktor Hovland (Norway) 68 66 67
-9 Martin Kaymer (Germany) 67 68 66