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Johnson's reign might be delayed

February 15, 2009|Chuck Culpepper

PEBBLE BEACH — Around here where the weather has a legacy of rudeness toward the golf, they're about to hold a Sunday referendum on one Chanticleer and a bunch of meteorologists.

The former would be Dustin Johnson, the laconic 24-year-old ball-destroyer who became the first guy to make All-American while playing for the Coastal Carolina University Chanticleers and who at a whopping 15 under par led by four shots after three rounds.

The latter would be forecasters, whose repeated insinuations of looming doom have proved untrue for the last three days at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, as whatever they're describing tends to loiter in the Pacific before gushing at night when nobody really cares.

"Hopefully, they'll miss the forecast again," said Mark Russell, PGA Tour vice president for rules and competitions, observing a Sunday morning forecast calling for a 70% chance of sheer frightfulness.

If they don't miss, everyone might reconvene Monday, and if they do miss, the recession-thinned galleries on one edge of the country will observe the intestinal measurement of a South Carolinian from the other edge.

Asked if he felt comfortable with that, Johnson sustained his knack for saying few words and replied, "Yeah."

He had just completed a Poppy Hills dream sequence that included birdies on Nos. 9, 10, 11 and 12, and he had just patched a 67 onto his 65 from Thursday at Pebble Beach and his 69 on Friday at Spyglass Hill. It vaulted him to 15 under and left him hounded most closely by a Masters winner at 11 under (Mike Weir) and a two-time U.S. Open titlist at 10 under (Retief Goosen).

"You know, I've won seven of my eight tournaments from behind," Weir said with perfect and menacing politeness, and that includes a seven-shot recovery on Charles Howell III at Riviera and a four-shot rebound against Tim Herron at the Bob Hope, both in 2003.

It's unlikely to unnerve Johnson, who employs a drowsy slight drawl and a seemingly low pulse rate and said, "I can sleep always."

Goosen, in turn, slept only if he left the driving range, not a certainty after a 74 at Spyglass Hill he described with, "It was a terrible round of golf," and, "Today everything was out of sorts," and, "My timing of my golf swing was bad," and, "I'm glad I don't have to play Spyglass again," and, well, "It's a shame."

Like the rest of the 68 pros who made the cut -- as Phil Mickelson barely did at Pebble Beach with a gorgeous approach that curled out over the bay and arranged a birdie on No. 18 -- Goosen heads to Pebble Beach. He could benefit both from that (he shot 64 there Friday) and from any appalling but playable weather (he won his 2001 U.S. Open in an Oklahoma furnace, famously survived a lightning strike on a South African course at age 15 and lives in England).

Whether he or Weir or anybody else can catch Johnson could depend either on Johnson or the sky's mood, only one of which has a history with Sundays like this.

As for Johnson, he finished tied for seventh here last year, but his career leap came in October, when he birdied the last two holes to win the Turning Stone Resort Championship.

That propelled him both onto the 2009 tour and into a bit of a daze. "It's kind of hard to explain," he said that Sunday. "I haven't grasped everything yet. . . . I'll probably have to sit down and re-evaluate my goals," which had entailed only reaching the top 125 on the 2008 money list for 2009 qualification.

Now, as crowds roared Saturday at Pebble Beach for Bill Murray and Justin Timberlake, Johnson birdied No. 18 with an aggressive seven-footer to a gallery of maybe 25, not that he complained. He has his first gaping Sunday lead since "probably in college," he said, making him the man of the day at a storied event, provided they have an event.

If they don't either today or Monday and the tournament winds up halting at 54 holes, he'll join dignitaries such as Johnny Miller, Fuzzy Zoeller, Payne Stewart and Mickelson among 54-hole champions at weather-disturbed AT&Ts. And at least, unlike with Mickelson in 1998, clinching victory won't require a return on a Monday in August.


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