By Mark Lamport-Stokes
OAKMONT, Pennsylvania (Reuters) – Dustin Johnson, seeking major redemption after several near-misses in recent years, played superb golf over the front nine to move into a one-shot lead in the final round of the U.S. Open on Sunday.
On a firm and fast running layout at sun-baked Oakmont Country Club with little margin for error, the long-hitting American recorded two birdies to reach the turn in two-under 33, and five-under for the championship.
Irishman Shane Lowry, like Johnson hunting a first major title, had held a four-stroke lead after looking unflappable over the first 54 holes but he endured a nervy front nine as he dropped three shots to slip back to four-under.
Spaniard Sergio Garcia, who holed out from a bunker to birdie the par-three eighth, and American Scott Piercy were tied for third at two-under, both having played 10 holes.
PGA Tour veteran Jim Furyk, the 2003 U.S. Open champion at Olympia Fields, briefly got to two under before bogeying the final hole after an errant drive for a 66 and the clubhouse lead at one-under 279.
Johnson, who missed a three-foot putt at the final hole to hand last year’s U.S. Open to Jordan Spieth, produced the best golf on the front nine of those players in the top three pairings, along with several clutch putts.
The athletic 31-year-old made a confident start and cut Lowry’s lead to three with a birdie at the par-four second, very nearly driving the green before two-putting to get to four-under.
Lowry, playing in the group behind, then bogeyed the second to slip back to six-under after a poor wedge approach failed to hold the green and rolled back down the slope.
Johnson was unfortunate not to birdie the par-four fifth after hitting a superb wedge approach to five feet, his short putt breaking left as it slid past the cup.
Lowry also bogeyed the fifth, after finding a fairway bunker off the tee and hitting his second shot fat, and did well to avoid a double as he coaxed in a slick nine-footer, his lead cut to just one.
Johnson hit another pinpoint wedge to eight feet at the par-four ninth and rolled in the putt to join Lowry in a two-way tie at the top before the Irishman slipped back with a bogey at the ninth after hitting his tee shot into a fairway bunker.
American world number two Spieth, who won last year’s title by one shot, finished a disappointing title defence with a 75 for a nine-over total of 289.
(Editing by Andrew Both)