Big-hitting Dustin Johnson shot six birdies in his first seven holes on Friday en route to a course record nine-under 63, while Rory McIlroy threw away three shots late on at the US$8.5 million WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, China.
Completing a sizzling front nine of 30, Johnson took just 33 more to get home to lead on 12-under-par 132.
Overnight leader McIlroy of Northern Ireland was five shots back tied for second after a level-par round that had promised much more. The 24-year-old had threatened to repeat the heroics of his first day 65 when he had a hat-trick of birdies on the sixth, seventh and eighth. However, a bogey at 11 caused the self-doubt to creep in and he dropped two more for a 72.
“Just one of those things,” he told reporters after, clearly frustrated. “I hit a couple of bad shots ... and I started to doubt myself sometimes. Didn’t hit a lot of quality shots on the back nine.”
McIlroy was joined at seven-under by Americans Boo Weekley (67) and Bubba Watson (69), as the Stars and Stripes started to climb a leaderboard dominated by European players on day one.
“I’m definitely happy with where I’m at,” world No. 23 Johnson said afterward, whose 63 tied the course record held jointly by McIlroy, Daisuke Maruyama, Ernie Els (all in 2009) and Martin Kaymer (2011).
“I drove the ball really, really well for two days and for me that’s a big key,” Johnson added. “I hit a lot of good iron shots and though it’s tough to get close to these holes I made a lot of nice 10 to 15-footers.”
Watson, who won the Masters Tournament last year, told reporters earlier this week that he thought the course and greens would suit him on his first visit to theSheshan Golf Club. He was as good as his word, shooting a second-round 69 to add to his 68 the previous day.
On his first visit to China, the American said he was surprised at how similar it was to playing at home.
“You don’t hear a lot of English, but it’s about the same,” he said. “Everything about the trip has been beautiful. Malaysia last week [the CIMB Classic] and then here. It’s perfect.”
Weekley had one of the rounds of the day with a five-under 67 to tack on to his opening 70.
Unfortunately, his post-round interview was more staccato than his golf and a little undiplomatic.
Asked how he liked being in China, Weekley replied: “It don’t matter. We’re here.”
Then when asked if he had seen anything of China apart from the hotel and the golf course, he answered: “You said it exactly: hotel, golf course. I’m all right. I don’t need to see nothing.”
Former US Open champion Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland is second in the Race to Dubai European Tour standings with this and just two more events remaining.
He is intent on closing the gap to leader Henrik Stenson and has shown a welcome return to form after what he described as a “rusty” performance at last week’s BMW Masters in Shanghai after taking five weeks off to get married.
His second successive 69 yesterday, playing alongside Johnson, took him to a share of fifth place on six-under-par.
“Yesterday was very solid. Today was a little untidier,” he said after his round.
Stenson has had a miserable week so far. The Swede, who won the FedEx Cup in September, shot a four-over 76 and is six-over-par for the tournament, languishing in 70th place in the 78-man field.
He needs to improve over the weekend as nearest rivals McDowell, Justin Rose (five-under after two rounds) and last week’s big money winner Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano (six-under) are all in contention for the US$1.4 million winner’s cheque heading into the weekend.