And then they weren’t. Johnson birdied the par-3 sixth hole from seven feet, made a nifty sand save for par on No. 7 and then made a two-putt birdie on the par-5. Like that, he was back to 16 under. The lead went back to two shots. By No 10, it was up to three, after Smith, who had converted 17 of 23 up-and-down saves this week, bled his approach badly to the right and missed a 10-foot par try.
No one would get any closer the rest of the day. Smith became the first player in Masters history to record all four rounds in the 60s, which somehow was relegated to a footnote.
“I felt as though I needed to shoot 3‑ or 4‑under on that back nine with the wind the way it was,” Smith said. “It got pretty tricky out there. I would say after 16, after not birdieing 16, I thought if I birdied the last four, I thought I would still have a chance. At least make him think about it. And wasn’t to be.”
“Dustin definitely plays at another level,” Im said through a translator. “I’ve played with him a couple times and ... his accuracy off the tee is unbelievable to watch.”
The Demoralization Meter spiked midway through the back side, after Johnson birdied Nos. 13 (from 13 feet), 14 (six feet) and 15 (feet). The event had become the Runner-Up Sweepstakes.
“It was sort of that stretch where I was thinking, OK, if I can get one out of these, birdie 13, birdie 15, maybe pick up a couple more,” said Rory McIlroy, who shot 69. “Yeah, I mean, Dustin is just playing such solid golf, it was probably wishful thinking on my part.”
The final math was quite persuasive. Smith and Im shot twin 69s and were runners-up at five shots back. Justin Thomas’ closing 70 left him fourth at eight shots back, one ahead of McIlroy. Abraham Ancer, in second place when the day started? He shot 76. Dylan Frittelli, five back at the start? A 72. Those numbers would not do while Johnson was extending a string of sub-par rounds at the Masters to 11.
“The course suited him down to the ground.” said Brooks Koepka, whose 278 marked his second-lowest score in five trips to Augusta and still lost by 10. “He’s more of a picker of the ball. He doesn’t spin it that much with his irons. So the ball’s not going to be backing up, so he can get to a lot of the back pins a lot better. If you pick it like that, you can really, really control ... you’re never going to rip it off the front of the green, where I feel like a lot of people, pretty much everybody, struggled with that.”
“He played great golf like we all know he can play,” Jon Rahm said.