By Kyle Porter CBS Sports
Moving day at the Travelers Championship started early on Saturday in Round 3 as tee times were moved up to try and avoid afternoon weather. Dustin Johnson took advantage with his best-ever round on the PGA Tour and gave an already-good leaderboard a little extra punch.
D.J.’s round was tied for tops on the day, but several other players also went deep to set themselves up for a Sunday push toward winning the third PGA Tour event back since a three-month pause in competition. Let’s take a look at why D.J. soared on Saturday and what Sunday’s finale might have in store.
1. Brendon Todd (-18) — Todd made 12 (!!) 3s on Saturday and has hit 41-of-42 fairways this week. Both numbers feel impossible, but they’re both behind his two-stroke lead going into Sunday. How about this scenario. Only Justin Thomas, Webb Simpson and Todd have multiple wins on the PGA Tour this season. If Todd wins on Sunday, he will be the only player with three wins. In a pandemic-shortened season with just one major championship, it’s feasible to think that Todd could be in the running for PGA Tour Player of the Year and, in fact, win the award with a win on Sunday and a great PGA Championship performance. If you would have told me this time last year that Brendon Todd would have the inside track on the POY and that Tiger Woods would be the reigning Masters champion, I’m not sure which would have been more unbelievable.
2. Dustin Johnson (-16) — D.J. also made 12 3s on Saturday in a third-round 61 to get near the top of the leaderboard. He’s finally hitting it like we expect D.J. to hit it, and as a result he’s 2-1 to win the event going into the final round. Because of his immense power and shot-shaping ability, par for D.J. on this course is probably somewhere around 68. Take the 277-yard par-4 15th hole for example. How many clubs does D.J. have that will go 277 yards? On Saturday, he drove it 27 feet from the pin just off the green and easily got up and down for birdie. While it’s difficult to be consistent at a high level on a short course — especially with your irons — his iron play has been lights out over the last three days and he’s made just one bogey in his last 42 holes. He’s the player to beat on Sunday.
3. Kevin Streelman (-15), 4. Mackenzie Hughes (-14) — I’ve been so impressed with how Hughes has hung on since shooting 60 on the first day. It’s easy to eject from that number after shooting the round of your life, but he’s parlayed it into a real opportunity to win for the second time on the PGA Tour.
T5. Bryson DeChambeau, Kevin Na (-13) — Bryson sneaked in a 65 with two birdies in his last four holes while the broadcast crew opined on whether he would try and drive the 418-yard par-4 17th hole. He’s in the perfect position on Sunday to let the driver ride on every single hole he plays over 320 yards, and that is a drama I will not be missing. Though his last 36 holes have been fairly quiet, he’s still in a great position to post something spicy on Sunday and win. Regardless, it seems like his run of top 10s will likely hit six and — more importantly — that he’s getting validation for his new-look game (even on unsuitable courses!) after gaining all that weight during the three-month break.
T7. Scott Stallings, Seung-Yul Noh, Patton Kizzire, Abraham Ancer, Phil Mickelson (-12) — Mickelson finally approached the full Mickelson on Saturday when he hit a ball out of a bunker on the back nine onto the train tracks. It was a tough day all around for Mickelson, who fell apart from tee to green and lost strokes off the tee and on his approach shots. I had a lot of questions about whether Lefty could exist at the level he was existing at in terms of ball-striking, and we all got answers on Saturday about how that’s going to go.
T13. Charley Hoffman, Kyle Stanley, Viktor Hovland, Zach Johnson, Brendan Steele, Will Gordon (-11) — Again, Hovland and Johnson being tied after three rounds of a PGA Tour event is amazing given their differences in style. It speaks to a good course that identifies whose all-around game is best.
T18. Rory McIlroy (-10) — Rory’s chances of winning seemed to sink with the ball he hit in the water on No. 15. He was coming off two straight birdies and had a real chance to run his number to 14 or 15 under coming home. But a poor tee shot there led to a mediocre finish, and now — barring something ludicrous — he’s too far back with too many players in front of him to have a real crack at winning this weekend.
• I love the finish at TPC River Highlands. The last four holes are all must-see TV when the leaders are playing them. Not exactly breaking news there, but it’s one of the better closing stretches on the PGA Tour.
• We say this about several of the top guys, but when D.J. is galloping and it looks easy, I’m not sure anyone has ever made it look easier than him. That’s especially true on a short course where he can hold back even more than he already does. A delight to experience.
• The on-course conversations picked up by microphones because no fans are in attendance remain amazing. I caught one with Lefty on Saturday in which he was in the rough with a tree to his front right. He was trying to describe to his brother and caddie, Tim, how he was going to try and shape the shot and how a variety of club faces (woods, irons) might affect it. I could not get enough.