July 22 (Reuters) - Dustin Johnson powered into contention for the British Open championship with a brilliant 64 at Royal Birkdale on Saturday yet there was still a slight sense of anti-climax after the world number one missed out on a landmark round.
Soon after Branden Grace had recorded the first 62 in the history of men's major championship golf, it seemed as if the powerful American, after rattling in five birdies in the first 10 holes, could well match, if not surpass, the South African.
Even when making a birdie at the 15th, his sixth of the day after also picking up strokes at the first, fourth, fifth, seventh and 10th holes, Johnson still felt it was possible, needing two more in the final three holes to match Grace.
Ultimately, though, three pars meant he had to settle for a bogey-free six-under par third round that leaves him on a three-under total of 207, definitely in the hunt for the Claret Jug.
Luck may be with him, too. His dreadful drive at the short par-four fifth flew so far left that it crashed into a grandstand and rebounded preposterously onto the green, enabling him to two-putt for a birdie.
Even when speaking at his press conference, Grace recognised that last year's U.S. Open winner was out on the course, threatening his new milestone -- and Johnson knew he had a chance too.
"For sure, I knew five-under through 10 that I had a lot of chances but I didn't make any big putts," he said.
"On 16, I just left it short from eight feet or something. And then on (the par-five) 17th, I was right in the middle of the fairway there and made par. Definitely a couple of shots there (went missing) on the last couple of holes."
Johnson, who presumed the leaders would continue to thrive in benign conditions, felt his chances on Sunday might well depend on the weather -- and he could still need a record-breaking final round of 61.
"I'm going to need to shoot probably nine-under, I would imagine. To get to 12-under, I think that would be a decent number to sit in the clubhouse at."
His opponents will not put it past him. Playing partner Paul Casey, who shot a three-under 67 to sit at level par, said: "I know when Rory (McIlroy) gets hot, Rory is amazing. But right now Dustin is the best player in the world, hands down.
"Dustin always has a swagger. It's just a Dustin swagger. It's not more or less. It's the same swagger if it's double bogey as it is from an eagle. And that's what is really cool about Dustin Johnson." (Reporting by Ian Chadband, editing by Pritha Sarkar)