But the South Carolina native struggled with his putter and saw his tournament hopes dashed after shooting 1-over 73 on Saturday.
The Coastal Carolina alum sits at 1-under for the tournament, well off the pace.
"I'm driving the ball well and hitting a lot of good iron shots, but it is a struggle to get it in the hole," Johnson said. "I'm not feeling it with the putter."
Johnson entered this week as one of the favorites. In 2010, he led through 54 holes at the U.S. Open and lost at the PGA Championship after he was ruled to have grounded his club in a bunker on the final hole.
Things went sour right from the start as Johnson hit his approach on the first hole over the green, leading to a bogey. He battled back with birdies on No. 3 and No. 9, but then his putting problems began to surface.
He three-putted from 50 feet on No. 10 for a bogey, then lipped out a three-footer for birdie on No. 11. He missed another birdie try from about 10 feet on No. 12.
Following a two-putt birdie on No. 13, he 3-putted again from long distance on No. 14.
He laid up close on the Par 5 15th hole, converting the birdie putt, but couldn't seize the momentum as he followed with consecutive bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17.
While Johnson struggled, he watched playing partner Adam Scott shoot 67 to fly up the leader board.
"He made a lot of key putts and a couple long ones," Johnson said. "I think the longest putt I made today was six feet. But I'm going to come out tomorrow and try to shoot a low score. Maybe I can squeeze a top 10 or top 5 finish out of this."