ATLANTA – Early in the day, it looked like a Dustin Johnson runaway. As it turned out, he wouldn’t even be leading by himself at day’s end.
A sloppy double bogey at East Lake Golf Club’s par-4 17th led to an inexplicable 2-over stretch in Johnson’s final six holes of the third round of the Tour Championship, as he fell from a multiple-shot lead to tied at the top heading into the final day.
Your other co-leader after 54 holes? Kevin Chappell.
The 30-year-old birdied that 17th to produce a three-shot swing and move from two behind to one ahead in a flash. He ended the day with a disappointing par on the closing par 5, but it was a second straight 68 for an 8-under total as he made up the one-stroke deficit that he had to start the day.
Even with the late falter, Johnson does begin Sunday in prime position for the FedEx Cup crown. A three-time winner in 2015-16 and No. 1 in the FedEx Cup standings, Johnson began the day 7 under and torched East Lake early with three consecutive birdies, at Nos. 4-6. That jumped his lead from one to four, and it looked like this would be a Johnson runaway.
Six holes later, Chappell finally had cut the deficit to two with a chip-in birdie, but Johnson then rolled in a 12-footer for birdie moments later to boost the lead back to three.
At that point, a comfortable margin heading into Sunday seemed inevitable.
But then Johnson showed he was human.
Back-to-back bogeys followed, and after birdie on 15, he made a mess of 17. Johnson’s tee shot went right, his second shot hit some trees, his third came up short in a bunker and he could only two-putt for double bogey and lose his lead. Fortunately for him, Johnson bombed a 356-yard drive down the par-5 18th and would get up and down from the front bunker for a closing birdie to regain a share of the lead.
Johnson, 32, will be going for his 13th career PGA Tour victory Sunday and his fourth in a transcendent year that includes U.S. Open, WGC and FedEx Cup playoff event victories. In fact, Johnson won just last week at the BMW Championship, which would make this back-to-back triumphs. Plus, a victory Sunday would earn him the FedEx Cup title.
Chappell, meanwhile, is looking for his long-awaited first PGA Tour triumph. Chappell is competing in his 167th PGA Tour event and has five runners-up and three thirds, but no titles. He might also be able to snag the last U.S. Ryder Cup spot with a victory. Capturing the FedEx Cup almost certainly won’t happen for Chappell, though, as he came into the week 15th in the standings and will need to win and see Dustin Johnson drop to about 10th at the Tour Championship.
Lurking right behind is Deutsche Bank Championship winner Rory McIlroy. The Northern Irishman hit a few edges today but still managed a bogey-free 66 to move within two and into a tie for third. If he can pull off a victory Sunday and Johnson finishes worse than solo second, McIlroy would win the FedEx Cup. Ryan Moore joined McIlroy at 6 under. Hideki Matsuyama stands solo fifth at 5 under.
Jordan Spieth posted another mediocre 72 to drop to a tie for 18th at 2 over.