RORY McIlroy imploded at the final hole while Dustin Johnson overpowered Sheshan International with a stunning display off the tee that carried him to ten birdies, a share of the course record with a nine-under 63 and a five-shot lead going into the weekend at the 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 one over after his opening nine holes of this World Golf Championship, hammered a drive on the par-5 second hole and just kept hitting it cleanly.
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 after his second round.
McIlroy, who started the second round with a two-shot lead, reached ten under at the turn and couldn’t keep up. The Northern Irishman 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 seven-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 three 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.”
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.”
The one positive from his finish on 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 a 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 tenth 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 realise until his shot tumbled down a steep slope. That led to his only bogey.
On the Challenge Tour, meanwhile, Andrea Pavan soared into a three-shot lead at the Dubai Festival City Grand Final thanks a six under par second round of 66, leaving him right on course to become the first multiple winner of the prestigious event.
The Italian entered the week as the man to catch in the race to be crowned European Challenge Tour No 1 and, having shared the first-round lead overnight at the splendid Al Badia Golf Club by InterContinental, his relentless charge to a season-ending double only gathered pace on day two.
Nobody has ever won the Challenge Tour’s finale twice and, having claimed the title on his home course in Italy in 2011, Pavan is poised to create history.
“It would be fantastic to finish off the season in style,” said Pavan. “I just have to play my best, be right there towards the end, and finish it off.”
Scotland’s Jamie McLeary lies six shots off the lead after adding a 70 to his opening 68. Andrew McArthur is a shot further adrift and Duncan Stewart is eight off the lead after a second-round 68.
(Gbr & Ire unless stated, par 72)
Dustin Johnson (USA) 69 63
Rory McIlroy 65 72, Boo Weekley (USA) 70 67, Bubba Watson (USA) 68 69
Graeme McDowell 69 69, Tommy Fleetwood 68 70, Ernie Els (Rsa) 69 69, Sergio Garcia (Spa) 70 68, Ian Poulter 71 67, Gonzalo Fdez-Castano (Spa) 67 71
Keegan Bradley (USA) 71 68, Phil Mickelson (USA) 71 68, Justin Rose 68 71, Graham Delaet (Can) 71 68, Jin Jeong (Kor) 70 69, Jordan Spieth (USA) 68 71, Wen-Chong Liang (Chn) 72 67
Jason Dufner (USA) 73 67, Gaganjeet Bhullar (Ind) 69 71, Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa) 70 70, Billy Horschel (USA) 71 69, Mark Brown (Nzl) 72 68
Francesco Molinari (Ita) 72 69, Mikko Ilonen (Fin) 72 69, Jamie Donaldson 67 74, Luke Donald 70 71
Paul Casey 69 73, Chris Wood 71 71, Ken Duke (USA) 70 72, Matteo Manassero (Ita) 72 70
Hao-tong Li (Chn) 72 71, Scott Hend (Aus) 69 74, Brian Gay (USA) 71 72, Peter Hanson (Swe) 70 73, Gregory Bourdy (Fra) 75 68, Derek Ernst (USA) 71 72, Kevin Streelman (USA) 70 73
Martin Kaymer (Ger) 70 74, Darren Fichardt (Rsa) 70 74, David Lynn 74 70, Thongchai Jaidee (Tha) 76 68, Peter Uihlein (USA) 71 73, Bill Haas (USA) 72 72, Bo Van Pelt (USA) 77 67, Wen-yi Huang (Chn) 70 74, Rickie Fowler (USA) 74 70, Ryan Moore (USA) 70 74, Lee Westwood 71 73
Masahiro Kawamura (Jpn) 73 72, Michael Hendry (Nzl) 72 73, Jaco Van Zyl (Rsa) 72 73, Scott Piercy (USA) 72 73, Hiroyuki Fujita (Jpn) 75 70, Jonas Blixt (Swe) 70 75
D.A. Points (USA) 72 74, Michael Thompson (USA) 74 72, Stephen Gallacher 73 73, Thomas Bjorn (Den) 74 72, Jimmy Walker (USA) 73 73
Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha) 69 78, John Merrick (USA) 72 75, David Howell 72 75, Brandt Snedeker (USA) 73 74, Richard Sterne (Rsa) 74 73
Daniel Popovic (Aus) 77 71, Branden Grace (Rsa) 77 71
Nick Watney (USA) 75 74, Seuk-hyun Baek (Kor) 81 68, Ashun Wu (Chn) 74 75
Henrik Stenson (Swe) 74 76
Miguel Angel Jimenez (Spa) 75 76, Mu Hu (Chn) 76 75, Raphael Jacquelin
(Fra) 81 70
Brett Rumford (Aus) 75 77, George Coetzee (Rsa) 75 77
Ryo Ishikawa (Jpn) 81 72
Ming Jie Huang (Chn) 83 77
71 Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn)