One great difference between the 30 walking logos playing in the Tour Championship this Labor Day weekend and just about everyone else is that they get golf. They actually can repair flaws in their game. While the majority of the playing public must grimly endure what they are powerless to change, the golf swing being to them like rush hour traffic or a jury summons.

Example No. 1: Dustin Johnson came off East Lake Saturday unable to find a fairway but certain of where the practice area was. He went straight there after missing 12 of 14 fairways, determined to get his tee game right.

And when he reported to the No. 1 for Sunday’s third round, he loosed a 312-yard drive as true as a baby’s laugh. It would be the first fairway he’d hit since way back on Saturday’s fifth hole. He’d hit 10 more this day, 11 total, four more than his first two days combined. And when he does that, he turns golf at East Lake into a lark.

It’s just this simple: “I know it was what I needed to do, to play here well, is just hit it in the fairway. I definitely hit a lot more fairways today,” Johnson said.

And how he was rewarded for his accuracy. Johnson took a straight-line path to a third-round 64 — tied for the best of 43 rounds he has played at East Lake — while opening up a 5-shot lead entering Monday’s final round.

This is Johnson’s fourth straight 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour. He doesn’t hold onto them all — two of those he didn’t convert into a victory — but by the end of Sunday he was looking harder to catch than Moby Dick.

Example No. 2: Following his Saturday, Justin Thomas was last in the field in strokes gained putting and fuming over not being able to score a whole lot better than a 1-over 71. So little surprise that three hours before his tee time for the third round he and stand-in caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay were on the practice green with the early-tee-time corps rolling ball after ball.

OK, Thomas had one brain spasm Sunday, three-putting from 12 feet on a hole.

But throughout a dramatic round that featured a chip-in for eagle on the par-5 6th, three bogeys and five birdies, the one constant was a very improved short stick. He’d make a 25-footer for birdie on the next hole following the three-putt. He’d make a 17-footer on No. 2 for his first birdie of the day. He’d can a par-saving 31-footer on No. 5 to perhaps save his round. He’d sink a 28-foot putt that lazily curved like a snake in the sun for only the second birdie made this day on the par 4 14th.

Still, it was exhausting trying to keep up with Johnson. The best Thomas could do was shoot 66 and get to 14 under for the tournament, joining Xander Schauffele at second, looking up at Johnson’s 19 under.

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The question for anyone on the leaderboard who can just make out Johnson way out there in the distance: Will any further improvement they find in time for Monday’s final round really matter?

“I mean, he’s showcased what he can do,” Schauffele said of Johnson. “If he does what he normally does, it’s going to be almost impossible to catch him. I can try to influence him, which he probably won’t really care about. If I birdie the first three holes, it’s not going to faze him. It’s DJ. We’ve seen him do it for 20 plus years now, and I just have to try and be better.”

We haveseen this before, Johnson turning a PGA Tour event into a Roadrunner cartoon, with him as the star and everyone else auditioning for the role of Wile E. Coyote. In the first playoff event leading to East Lake, he won by 11 shots.

Harris English, who’s well back at 6 under, was paired with Johnson at the end of that Boston massacre. He gave Monday’s pursuers little to cling to.

“Those guys trying to chase him down, they’re probably going to have to shoot 6-, 7-under tomorrow to have a chance. Because he’s not just trying to win, he’s trying to beat everybody by 10 shots,” English said.

These are no accidental champions chasing Johnson. In addition to Schauffele and Thomas, Jon Rahm, who got himself back into the fray by shooting 66 Sunday, is six back at 13 under. PGA champion Collin Morikawa is at 12 under.

As Johnson described it, all that was required was that he “just fix the setup a little bit” on his drives and he was at his best again.

Fixes are never permanent in golf, which is the field’s greatest hope.

To that, Johnson said, “Obviously the game is in good form. I’ve got a lot of confidence in everything I’m doing right now.

“Yeah, I’ve played well over the last four events and I’m comfortable in the spot that I’m in. Even the two Sundays where I didn’t win, I felt like I played really solid rounds. Just a couple guys played a little bit better. (Monday) is more of the same. I just need to go out and focus on what I’m doing and try and shoot the lowest score I can.”

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