Dustin Johnson ties course record in Shanghai
American hits 63 to take nine-shot lead at WGC HSBC Champions
Dustin Johnson overpowered Sheshan International on Friday with a stunning display off the tee that carried him to 10 birdies, a share of the course record with a 9-under 63 and a five-shot lead going into the weekend at the WGC HSBC Champions.
“I’m driving it really good,” said Johnson, and while that didn’t provide much insight, he really didn’t need to say much more.
The 29-year-old American, who was 1-over after his opening nine holes of this World Golf Championship, hammered a drive on the par-5 second hole and has been on a roll ever since. He is 13-under over his last 27 holes.
Johnson became the sixth player to shoot 63 at Sheshan, and the first since Martin Kaymer in the final round two years ago.
He was at 12-under 132.
Rory McIlroy, who started the second round with a two-shot lead, reached 10-under at the turn and couldn’t keep up. McIlroy hit into the same fairway bunker on No 11 as he did on Thursday and made bogey, but he didn’t have many birdie chances the rest of the way and had to settle for a 72.
McIlroy was at 7-under 137 with Boo Weekley (67) and former Masters champion Bubba Watson (69).
With a wedge in his hand on the par-5 14th, McIlroy went just over the green and had to hit a delicate chip to save par. He drove into the tiny pot bunker left of the green on the par-4 16th and took two shots to get out. And on the par-5 18th, his second shot found the water, leading to bogey.
“I just hit a couple of bad shots, and then I guess I let it affect me a little bit, and then I started to doubt myself sometimes,” McIlroy said. “I didn’t hit a lot of quality shots on the back nine.”
Johnson hardly missed. He only hit eight of 14 fairways, but several of those were in the first cut of rough, and two of them counted as missed fairways because he was trying to drive the green on the par 4s. At the seventh, his tee shot was just short of the bunker in front of the green, leading to an easy up-and-down for birdie. On the 16th, he hit 3-iron just short of the green in a drain, took a free drop and chipped to 3 feet for birdie.
“What’s possible for an athlete like him who just rips it, that’s not what’s possible for the rest of us sometimes,” said Graeme McDowell, who had another 69 playing in Johnson’s group and was six shots behind. “He’s an impressive guy. When he’s in the mood and when he’s on form, he’s pretty prolific.”
There was a big crowd behind in case Johnson slips up on the weekend.
Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, BMW Masters winner Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Ian Poulter were among those at 6-under 138. Phil Mickelson, trying to recover from his quadruple bogey-bogey finish to the opening round, had a 68 and was seven shots behind.
“I’m making a lot of birdies,” Mickelson said. “But I’ve had too many mistakes. I’m going to continue to play aggressively out here, because I have to make birdies to catch the lead. And hopefully, I’ll eliminate a few mistakes here or there.”
The one positive from his finish Thursday? The last time Mickelson made a quadruple bogey was in the first round of the 2009 Tour Championship. He went on to win.
Even so, catching Johnson suddenly looks like a monumental task.
Johnson is regarded as the most skilled American under 30, and it showed on day like this. He made six birdies in his opening seven holes, which included an up-and-down from a 40-yard bunker shot on the second hole. His only par was a two-putt from 12 feet on the fourth hole.
His tee shot was so long on the 10th hole that it was through a cart path that crosses the fairway. His only mistake was forgetting that the green falls off to the right, which he didn’t realize until his shot tumbled down a steep slope. That led to his only bogey.
About the only thing that really tripped him up was a question from a Chinese reporter asking if he was aware he had so many female fans in China and if he brought his girlfriend with him. Indeed, Paulina Gretzky followed him around the course.
“It’s my fiancee,” Johnson said.
Weekley is no stranger to China, having played the World Cup at Mission Hills. He qualified for the HSBC Champions by winning Colonial, and he has played solidly for two days, even though he’s trying to adjust to the culture. Asked what he thought of China, Weekley said, “Yeah, it’s fun. Just can’t understand them.”
Watson has gone without a win this year, and he hasn’t even been in the top 10 since June. His length should make him a threat, though Watson sounded as though he wasn’t sure what to expect the rest of the way.
“Two more days, a lot could happen,” Watson said. “I could be dead last by the end of the week. Right now, I’m just taking it in stride and hopefully will come out and make some putts and hit the ball just as good.”