Johnson had seven putts at eagle over 36 holes, four on the back nine alone in the second round. He missed only three greens in regulation. And when his marathon day ended, he had rounds of 69-66 for a three-shot lead over defending champion Steve Stricker.
Three days behind schedule because of high wind, the season started on the day the tournament was supposed to finish. Rickie Fowler made PGA Tour history by hitting the opening shot of the season three times — the first two “opening rounds” had to be scrapped by 40 mph gusts roaring down the Maui hills.
Johnson returned some degree of normal in warm sunshine and strong wind. He simply overpowered Kapalua, twice driving the green on par 4s, one of them into the wind. He was at 11-under 135, and that lead looms even larger with only one round to play.
Stricker started the long day wondering if he could even finish. He was limping badly coming down the hill because of lower back pain on the 18th in the middle of his second round. But from 67 yards away, his pitch rode the slope and the wind to perfection and dropped for eagle, and his spirits lifted.
Stricker added a pair of birdies on the front nine and finished with a 6-under 67 to reach 8-under 138.
Bubba Watson, playing with Johnson and frustrated by the wind and slow greens, birdied his last hole for a 69 and was four shots out of the lead. Keegan Bradley (69) and Brandt Snedeker (70) were another shot behind. They were the only players within five shots of Johnson.
“I’m pretty pleased with my equipment. I’m pretty pleased with my game right now,” Johnson said.
Johnson is trying to win in his sixth consecutive season since leaving college — the longest streak since Tiger Woods. Johnson has won the last two 54-hole events on the PGA Tour, including the Franklin Templeton shootout last month..