KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY, Saudi Arabia — Harold Varner III birdied the par-5 18th hole on Saturday to shoot a 2-under 68 and take a one-stroke lead over Adri Arnaus into the final round of the Saudi International.
Defending champion Dustin Johnson was five strokes back at the Asian Tour event, which paid big appearance fees to lure a slew of PGA Tour and DP World Tour regulars.
Varner, a 31-year-old American, eagled the par-5 fourth hole and mixed three birdies with as many bogeys for a 54-hole total of 12-under 198 at Royal Greens Golf and Country Club. The 99th-ranked Varner has never won on the PGA Tour but has one international victory, the Australian PGA Championship at the end of 2016.
Arnaus was 11 under after a 69. Tommy Fleetwood was another shot back after his second consecutive 67. Cameron Smith (70) bogeyed three of his last six holes and trails Varner by four strokes.
Johnson birdied the 18th for a 67, bouncing back from a second-round 71 to get into contention. Ranked No. 5 in the world, Johnson hasn’t won since last year’s Saudi event, a long drought by his standards.
He said his putting has held him back this week.
“The last two days I’ve given myself so many opportunities from around the 10-foot range,” Johnson said. “I just really haven’t holed anything. I’ve holed two long ones — one yesterday and one today — but other than that I’m missing a lot of short putts.”
Johnson also won at Royal Greens in 2019 and finished second two years ago.
“I’m swinging good, driving it well, hitting a lot of really good iron shots, so tomorrow I need to do a lot of the same,” he said. “Especially on the back nine I had a really good chance on just about every hole and only made a couple birdies. Tomorrow, hopefully if I can roll in a few putts I’ll definitely have a chance.”
Wade Ormsby (68) and Ryosuke Kinoshita (69) were also five shots off the lead.