AUGUSTA, Ga.: Dustin Johnson seized control of the Masters halfway through the third round on Saturday with a sizzling display of power and precision that left his rivals struggling to stay within striking distance.
Ten players were within one stroke starting the round, but Johnson broke clear after almost holing his approach shot for a tap-in eagle at the par-five second.
Seemingly fully recovered from a recent bout of the novel coronavirus, he had mastery of his trusty power fade off the tee and displayed supreme distance control with his irons, hitting every green in regulation on the front nine at Augusta National.
Johnson reached the turn at 14 under par, three strokes ahead of fellow American Justin Thomas and Mexican Abraham Ancer, and four in front of South Korean Im Sung-jae.
For all his talent, world number one Johnson has only one major title to his credit, a disappointing haul for a player who has all the physical attributes necessary for greatness.
A joint runner-up to Tiger Woods last year, Johnson has a long way to go before he can start thinking of how he would look in a Green Jacket.
However, his fast start all but eliminated several big names from contention, including Woods.
Four shots back when he teed off, Woods needed a fast start but instead had two bogeys and did not make a birdie until the 12th hole, a sixth Masters title seemingly nothing more than a dream as he fell 10 shots behind Johnson after 14 holes.
World number two Jon Rahm, who shared the halfway lead with Johnson, Thomas, Ancer and Australia's Cameron Smith, came unglued at the par-five eighth.
He ran up a double-bogey after his third shot struck a tree and ricocheted into an unplayable lie in a bush, and plunged six shots behind.
It was a sad turn of events for the Spaniard, who earlier on Saturday was among 48 players who resumed the second round at 7.30 am as the tournament played catch-up after Thursday's long break for bad weather.
Resuming with a birdie putt at the 13th, which Rahm stroked home on the smooth green, and helped by a chip-in at the par-five 15th to avoid dropping a shot, the Spaniard parred in to match the second lowest score of the round.
Pre-tournament favourite Bryson DeChambeau (74) made the cut with nothing to spare, nine shots back after bogeying the final two holes of his second round.
He said he had been feeling "weird" and took a coronavirus test on Friday night as a precaution. It came back negative.
Sixty players made the cut, which fell at even par.
The second round had barely finished before the third round started at 10.20 am (1520 GMT).
What started out with a morning chill in the air gave way to bright sunshine and pleasant November warmth in this unique spectator-free event being played for the first time in autumn.
(Reporting by Andrew Both, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Ken Ferris)