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DJ Replaces Rory atop Leaderboard in WGC-HSBC Champions
American Dustin Johnson soared past first-round leader Rory McIlroy and everyone else in the WGC-HSBC Champions field Friday. The $8.5 million event began Thursday at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, China.
After opening with a 2-under 69, Johnson fired a course-record-tying 63 to reach 12-under 132, five shots clear of fellow Americans Bubba Watson (69) and Boo Weekley (67), and Northern Ireland's McIlroy, who slipped from an opening 65 to a 1-over 72 in the second round.
Johnson started with six birdies on the front nine to make the turn in 6-under 30. He bogeyed the par-4 10th, but got right back into high gear, closing with four birdies in the final six holes for a 33 on the home half.
His second-round score was four shots lower than anyone else. The long-hitting Johnson - a seven-time PGA Tour winner - attributed that success to his powerful but accurate work off the tee. "I really drove the ball really well," the South Carolinian said. "For me, that's a big key."
Graeme McDowell was Johnson's playing partner through the first two rounds; the Northern Irishman was suitably impressed. "I've probably seen 18 of the best drives I've seen all year in the last two days," remarked the 2010 U.S. Open champion.
Johnson's score tied the all-time mark at Sheshan International set by five players; Martin Kaymer of Germany was the last to shoot 63 in 2011.
McIlroy carded eight birdies and a bogey Thursday. He got off to a nice start Friday, ending the front nine with three straight birdies. But he couldn't sustain the momentum on the back, where he had three bogeys and six pars. "I didn't hit a lot of quality shots on the back nine," he added.
As for the difference in his two days, McIlroy said, "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."
Sharing fifth at 138 are a couple of Spaniards - Sergio Garcia (68) and Fernandez-Castano Gonzalo (71), two Englishman - Tommy Fleetwood (70) and defending champion Ian Poulter (67), a South African - Ernie Els (69), and McDowell, who also had a 69.
Though he was pleased with his outing, McDowell continued to wax rhapsodic about the lanky Johnson's power, telling reporters, "It was kind of tough to focus when playing with Dustin Johnson hitting it 350 yards in the middle of the fairways," he said. "It was a little demoralizing at times. But I was happy that I hung in there. If he keeps playing the way he's played the last two days, he'll be tough to catch.
"What's possible for an athlete like him who just rips it, that's not what's possible for the rest of us sometimes. It was probably one of the best driving displays I've seen this year, for sure. It was pretty immense. He's got a short game to match, as well. When he's in the mood and when he's on form, he's pretty prolific."
Phil Mickelson followed up his opening 71 with a 68 and now shares 11th at 5-under 139 with South Korea's Jin Jeong (69), China's Wen-chong Liang (67), England's Justin Rose (71), Canada's Graham DeLaet (68), and fellow American Keegan Bradley (68) and Jordan Spieth (71)
Mickelson avoided the big number on Friday like he had in the first round, when he was sailing along sharing the lead with McIlroy until he quadruple-bogeyed the par-5 eighth (his 17th hole of the day).
"I'm making a lot of birdies," said Mickelson, who had eight birdies and four bogeys in the second round. "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."
But all the talk through 36 holes of the tournament so far has been Dustin Johnson, who's playing in his first event of the new 2013-14 PGA Tour season. "It still hasn't hit me that this is a new season," he said. "I'd like to get off to a good start. I just want to play well the next two days."
For all the scores, visit http://www.worldgolfchampionships.com/hsbc-champions/leaderboard.html.