Rampant Dustin Johnson looking to bury ghost of China
Rahm and Fowler ready for Sunday hunt
Story so far
Dustin Johnson is no bigger than 8-13 to convert a final-round lead into victory in the Sentry Tournament of Champions, but the world number one will have to overcome fresh memories of a recent Sunday collapse if he is to do so.
Johnson led the WGC-HSBC Champions in China by six shots going into the final round at the end of October, before carding a miserable 77 which allowed Justin Rose to take the title. Rose was eight shots behind, sharing fourth place, with 18 holes to play, but beat Johnson by two.
Johnson has competed only once since his Shanghai sorrow, finishing 14th of 18 runners in the Hero World Challenge, but he has a golden chance to get back to winnings ways in Hawaii. The Carolinian won the Tournament of Champions in 2013 and has more course experience than anyone else in this 34-man field.
Brian Harman is alone in second place, but Johnson may be more concerned about Jon Rahm and Rickie Fowler, who lurk in third and fourth. Rahm and Fowler are two explosive talents, well capable of final-round fireworks.
-16 Dustin Johnson
-14 Brian Harman
-12 Jon Rahm
-11 Rickie Fowler, Jason Dufner
-10 Jhonattan Vegas, Pat Perez
8-13 D Johnson, 9-2 B Harman, 8 J Rahm, 12 R Fowler, 33 J Dufner, 50 P Perez, 66 J Vegas, 80 bar
Dustin Johnson claims he has forgotten about what happened to him in the WGC-HSBC Champions and that drama is unlikely to have any impact on the early stages of the final round at the Plantation Course, Kapalua.
Johnson should start in typically laid-back, confident fashion, helped by the difference from China in how he finished round three. In the HSBC, he missed a short birdie putt at the easy final hole of the third round, ending Saturday on a sour note, before starting Sunday poorly. In contrast, the leader powered home in Hawaii.
Johnson holed a brave mid-range par putt on the 17th hole, then made an easy birdie at the par-five 18th to stretch his advantage, leaving himself a decent cushion over the most dangerous opponents.
The China horrors are only likely to come into play if Johnson plays badly on the front nine and quickly surrenders another advantage. It would be a tough job mentally to come back from rapidly spurning the lead, as he knows his reputation would be dented by throwing away another gilt-edged trophy chance through poor golf.
Will Johnson make a slow start and allow the gap to close? How likely is it that pressure is applied from behind? The leader is a former Kapalua champion, but he was also a previous course winner at the HSBC.
Tee to green Kapalua suits Johnson extremely well, but he has struggled with the challenges on and around the greens in the past, particularly when the track has played firm. A sunny and breezy final day is forecast, and the key to round four could be whether Johnson can retain putting control on the drying, windswept greens. The dancefloors are enormous and not of great quality, so nothing can be taken for granted until the ball is in the hole.
This is the 14th time Johnson has led or co-led after 54 holes on the US Tour, and he has converted seven of those positions into victory, most recently at the Genesis Open last year. He is obviously by far the most likely winner, and 8-13 looks generous, but it is not a done deal.
Brian Harman is probably not the man to cause the upset. The irritable left-hander is in tidy form, but may lack the temperament to overcome the best player in the world with a two-shot deficit. All week, Harman has been moaning: “Are you kidding me?” when something has not gone his way, and this ridiculous question will doubtless make more appearances as the tension rises in round four. Harman, only twice a US Tour winner in more than eight years as a pro, is the most unappealing outright wager of all at just 9-2.
Jon Rahm, growing in confidence on his course debut, finished round three like the proverbial train and is well capable of throwing down the gauntlet to Johnson. And Rickie Fowler will certainly not have given up on this title, either.
Fowler started the final round of his last event, the Hero World Challenge, trailing Charley Hoffman by seven shots, but ended up winning by four after conjuring an 11-under-par final-round 61. Fowler is five behind Johnson, but will relish the hunt. The key for Fowler is a fast start – he has been slow out of the blocks all week – and he will be a huge threat if he can get within a couple of shots coming down the stretch.
Johnson is the likely champion, then, but expect Rahm and Fowler to go down fighting. Victory for anyone else would be a surprise. The action resumes at 8pm UK and Ireland time, with the final twoball of Johnson and Harman off at 10.40pm.
Final-round twoball punters are pointed towards DA Points, who can use full fitness to defeat Brooks Koepka in the battle of the back-markers. Koepka has been labouring with a sore wrist, unable to apply his usual grip with his left hand, and is four shots behind in last place. He finished last in the Hero World Challenge, too.
It could be a case of picking up another guaranteed cheque in a no-cut event, then having some time off to heal the injury. Points is obviously no world-beater, but has not health issues and will be trying on every shot in the 8pm match.
Another outsider to follow is Wesley Bryan, who can upset Justin Thomas in the 8.20pm contest. Thomas has understandably lost focus since hopes of successfully defending his title disappeared, and he has also lost his caddie Jimmy Johnson, who has retired with a foot injury.
Thomas will have Jim 'Bones' Mackay on his bag for the Sony Open next week, but for the final round of the Sentry, his father Mike is on duty. Thomas carded 75 with his dad alongside him in round three and a similar lack of sparkle can be expected for the denouement. Bryan is a big price.
2pts 13-8 general
1pt 12-5 SkyBet