SANDWICH, England — After squandering two chances to win a major championship last year, Dustin Johnson never envisioned getting another shot at this British Open.
Not when he arrived at Royal St. George's with swollen glands the size of grapes.
Certainly not when he played the first 12 holes at 4 over, looking more like a guy headed home before the weekend than someone who'd be playing in the final group.
Well, that's just where he'll be today.
Johnson claimed a well-deserved spot in the last pairing with his second straight 2-under 68 in the third round, leaving him one stroke off the pace set Saturday by Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke.
Not that the 27-year-old American shouldn't be getting used to it by now. This will be the third time in the last six majors he's claimed one of those coveted spots. Now, he's just got to show he can finish the job.
Stay away from the 82s. And definitely, under no circumstances, ground a club in anything resembling a bunker, no matter how much it looks like a footpath.
"Well, obviously I've been in this situation a few times, so I think the more and more you can put yourself in a situation, the more comfortable you get," Johnson said. "I'm going to be pretty comfortable out there because I know what to expect, I know how to approach it, and I know what I do in those situations."
At last year's U.S. Open, Johnson went to the final round with a commanding three-stroke lead and, with youthful bravado, insisted he could handle the pressure. Clearly, he couldn't. By the time he got to the fifth hole, the lead was gone. He threw it away with a mess of a start — triple-bogey, double-bogey, bogey — and staggered to the finish with an 82, an eighth-place afterthought to Graeme McDowell's first major title.
Whatever disappointment Johnson must have felt that day paled against his plight two months later at the PGA Championship. Again playing in the last group, though this time starting out with a three-shot deficit to Nick Watney, Johnson rallied for the outright lead by curling in a putt at the 17th hole for his second straight birdie.
Johnson sent his tee shot at No. 18 far beyond the fairway, over the ropes that held back the fans and into a tiny patch of sand that had been trampled over all week. Johnson figured it was a footpath. Instead, it was one of the countless bunkers at Whistling Straits, most of them far out of play for the pros.
When Johnson grounded his club before striking the shot, he essentially lost the tournament. He went on to make bogey and thought he was going to a playoff, only to be told he must assess himself a two-stroke penalty for a much-debated but very clear rules violation.
Martin Kaymer won the championship. Johnson went home in shock.
"Other than the last hole, I played really good golf," he said. "I birdied 16 and 17 to get a one-shot lead going into 18. I played really good. I played good golf. I hung in there all day. I wasn't making any putts at all on Sunday at the PGA, but I fought and I hung in there all day and then got a few to go in."
"You know," Johnson marveled, "through 13 holes in the first round, I definitely didn't see myself in the final group on Sunday. But I think I've definitely played well enough to do that."