Palmetto Championship final round preview: Dustin Johnson misses the groove, needs to go low Sunday

The World No. 1 couldn’t make any headway in the third round and is now among the chasers trying to catch pace-setter Chesson Hadley.

There was a messy end to Saturday at the Palmetto Championship at Congaree, but overnight leader Chesson Hadley will be hoping it was merely a prelude to the conclusion of a messy period of his career.

The 33-year-old has made two cuts in his last 11 starts and has not landed a top 10 in one week shy of two years, but he takes a four shot lead into Sunday.

The third round is not quite complete - four players will need to complete the 18th hole on Sunday morning - but the essentials are in place ahead of the final lap.

Hadley has slipped the field, playing his 17 holes on Saturday in 3-under-par which leaves him those four blows clear on 14-under with his tee shot at the last in the middle of the fairway.

His nearest challenger is Harris English, 4-under through his 17 holes and with a 10-foot birdie putt waiting for him first thing.

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Young South African whizz-kid Garrick Higgo climbed into contention with a 68 that gives him a share third on 8-under 205 alongside the number World No. 1 Dustin Johnson who laboured most of the day (1-over through 17) and will need help from Hadley if he is to earn a first win since February.

Bo Van Pelt and Tyrrell Hatton share fifth on 7-under and will entertain vague hopes of victory should Hadley revert to his form prior to arriving at Congaree this week.

Let's take a closer look at the leading contenders and here what they had to say after their third rounds.

Chesson Hadley - leader on 14-under (65, 66, -3 thru 17)

It's been a season of comebacks on the PGA Tour and Hadley is seeking to become the fifth player to win again after a seven-year drought (in his case, following on from his first win at this level in the 2014 Puerto Rico Open).

He ranks first for Strokes Gained Putting (9.489) and 13th for Tee to Green (6.750).

To place that in context, his performance on the greens has always been a strong point (he ranks 14th for the season), but he is giving himself a chance with his long game because he ranks 192nd Tee to Green for 2020/21.

He's three times held a 54 hole lead, finishing third the first time (in 2013 on the Korn Ferry Tour), but converting the win on the next two occasions (once on the PGA Tour, then again on the second tier in 2017).

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He was very honest afterwards, explaining: "I was really uncomfortable to start, absolutely. I was nervous, anxious, it's been a long time since I've been in a position like this. You just kind of forget."

He was trying to bolster his confidence with goof vibes about the shot that awaits him in the morning and his likely final round pairing with English. "I've probably got a 9-iron or a wedge when we start," he said. "Hopefully I can hit it stiff and get one more

"I've known Harris for, gosh, probably 15 years now. He's a great egg, I would love to get a chance to take a walk with him. He's just a cool customer and would be somebody really comfortable to play with.

"That was one of the reasons why I was really uncomfortable today, playing with DJ. I've only played with him once and he's the best in the world and I've never played with a world No. 1, so that was really cool getting to watch from him and learn from him."

Harris English - solo second on 10-under (67, 69, -4 thru 17)

On fire throughout the back end of 2020 (four top 10s in six starts), he started 2021 with victory in the Tournament of Champions and then lost form completely.

But T13th at the AT&T Byron Nelson was a hint of better things to come and now he's backing it up.

He ranks fifth for SG Putting and 15th for Tee to Green.

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It seems fair enough to assume that he'll head into the final round in second and he's done that seven times in the past (six times on the PGA, once on the KFT), winning three of them.

He explained that, on his return in the morning he wouldn't bother with a full warm-up. "We'll practice some 10-foot right-to-lefters," he grinned. "That's what I have on 18. Then kind of go back and hang out. Looking forward to the challenge."

Garrick Higgo - tied third on 8-under (68, 69, 68)

The 22-year-old from Johannesburg is on a fast track to the top of the game.

He was a quick winner on the South African second tier (The Big Easy Tour), backed that up with early wins on the Sunshine Tour, grabbed a Challenge Tour/European Tour co-sanctioned success last summer, and was a two-time winner on the recent European Tour Canary Island Swing.

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He made his debut in America at the PGA Championship, made the cut, has spent time honing his game at popular PGA Tour player hangout Sea Island, and now has an outside look at pulling off a real coup.

He's not afraid of going low: in the Canaries eight of his 12 laps were sub-66.

He ranks third for SG Tee to Green, but the putter has been a little cold thus far (he ranks 35th).

Dustin Johnson - tied third on 8-under (65, 68, +1 thru 17)

It's a curious time for the World No. 1.

On the one hand this week is a big boost for confidence because after tagging 10 top 10 finishes in row, with four wins, either side of New Year, he's played poorly since late February, making just one top 25 in seven starts.

His work through 36 holes was excellent, but then he slipped into those sloppy recent ways, being something of a rarity in heading toward an over-par third round score.

Birdies at 15 and 16 seemed set to save that indignity only for another error before the hooter sounded.

But he ranks seventh for SG Tee to Green and if that maintains it will be a big improvement on recent weeks: he's not been top 10 in that category since he was on that run of top 10 finishes on the leaderboard.

Conclusions

Hadley is rated a 4/5 shot which seems skinny for a guy who admits that he was tight on Saturday. Of the last 50 players to hold a three or four shot 54 hole lead, 60% won and many were more used to this position that Hadley.

He'll make a great story if he wins, but he looks vulnerable.

English is 3/1 which looks about right, Johnson will have backers at 13/2, but 16/1 for Higgo offers smaller stake/bigger rewards possibilities.

READ MORE: Can Patrick Reed emulate Tiger Woods and complete a Torrey Pines US Open double next week?

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