Johnson leads as Tiger charges

Dustin Johnson leads the US Open by three shots with a round to go but Tiger Woods is lurking after a superb 66.

Dustin Johnson will take a three-shot lead over Graeme McDowell into the final round of the US Open, although Tiger Woods provided arguably the story of day three at Pebble Beach as he matched Johnson’s 66 to fire himself back into contention.

Woods had started the day on four-over-par – seven shots behind overnight leader McDowell – and looked to be playing himself out of the championship with two bogeys in his first three holes.

But he got up a tremendous head of steam on the back nine, finishing with a hat-trick of birdies to leave himself within striking distance of the leading duo at one-under.

But as Woods blazed a trail, the majority of the chasing pack struggled to make any real headway.

Most notably Phil Mickelson failed to repeat his heroics of Friday following his magical 66 with a 73 to end the day seven back of Johnson on one-over, while Ernie Els is just one shot better off after an up-and-down 72.

There was disappointment for the English contingent also with Paul Casey (77), Ian Poulter (77) and Lee Westwood (76) all going backwards on moving day, finishing on six-under, seven-under and eight-under respectively.

Instead it was the unlikely figure of Gregory Havret who maintained his form with a hugely-impressive 69 to finish at level-par alongside Els in joint-fourth, the Frenchman securing a final-day pairing with Woods in the process.

But it is huge-hitting Johnson – winner of the AT&T championship at Pebble Beach for the past two years – who will hold the aces heading into Sunday’s final round courtesy of a strong finish to his third round.

The American and playing partner McDowell duked it out at the top of the leaderboard throughout Saturday’s third round.

The Ulsterman had opened up an early four-shot lead after a birdie-birdie start, but Johnson ignited his round with an eagle at the driveable par-four fourth and had joined his rival at five-under after back-to-back birdies at six and seven.

Looking calm and assured McDowell held the edge for most of the back nine, but as he wobbled with bogeys at 16 and 17, Johnson came on strong with birdies at both 17 and 18 to take a stranglehold on the tournament at six-under.

McDowell eventually signed for a level-par 71 to finish the day as he started it at three-under.

But it was Woods who made most of the headlines as he rediscovered the kind of form that saw him romp to a 15-shot victory at Pebble Beach in the same championship ten years ago.

His round was made all the more remarkable by the fact he opened with a couple of scruffy bogeys at two and three.

He quickly righted the ship with birdies at four and five and another followed as he narrowly missed out on eagle at the par-five sixth.

A further bogey at eight seemed to have undermined his push as he dropped back to four-over once again, but a well-judged birdie putt saw him regain momentum at the tenth as the confidence so conspicuous by its absence in his recent outings came flooding back.

Having picked up another shot at 13, the galleries began to sense something special was happening as he found the heart of the cup again at 16 to haul himself back to one-over.

The volume levels went up another notch as he perfectly read a big breaking putt to chalk up birdie number seven of the day at the difficult par-three 17th, but he saved the best for last.

With his view to the final green obscured by the trees in the middle of the 18th fairway, Woods cut a quite magnificent three-wood under the branches of the obstacle and watched on as it chased up the green, coming to rest within 20 feet of the cup.

The subsequent eagle putt had the line although not the legs, but a tap-in birdie ensured Woods will head out on Sunday in the penultimate group.

“I played well today,” he told Sky Sports after his round. “You just had to stay patient.

“It was so awkward out there, but I got it together on the back nine. It’s tricky as they’re moving the tees around like at the third and that wasn’t one of the holes they said they’d move. But you just have to be fluid and adjust.

“You have to stay so patient in US Opens, it’s unlike any other championship.

“I was just trying to get myself back to level-par today and I did that. I played myself back into the championship.”

Tim Clark of South Africa, Japanese starlet Ryo Ishikawa and Germany’s Alex Cejka sit in a tie for ninth at three-over, but will be left hoping for a stumble from those ahead to have any chance.