World No.1 Dustin Johnson is on the verge of making history after opening up a six-shot lead in the WGC-HSBC Champions event in Shanghai.
Johnson carded an eventful third round of 68 at Sheshan International to finish 17 under par, with nearest rival and good friend Brooks Koepka collapsing to a 73 after a brilliant start.
Former Open champion Henrik Stenson is seven shots off the pace after a 69, with Olympic champion Justin Rose and Brian Harman a stroke further back on nine under.
Victory for Johnson today would make him the first player to win three World Golf Championship events in the same year after he won the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and WGC-Mexico Championship in back-to-back starts in March.
“These are big events, some of our biggest events we have on tour and obviously the best players in the world are here,” Johnson said.
“It’s golf tournaments that I obviously always want to put myself in position to win, which I’m in a good position going into tomorrow. But I’m still going to have to go out and play a really solid round if I want to get it done.”
Johnson began the day with a one-shot lead, but bogeyed the first and saw Florida neighbour Koepka start with three straight birdies to move two shots in front.
However, Johnson birdied the fourth and seventh to get back on level terms before a decisive swing on the eighth, where Johnson picked up another shot and US Open champion Koepka lost a ball in the trees and ran up a triple-bogey eight.
It was Johnson’s turn to find trouble on the tenth when he needed two attempts to get out of the bushes on his way to a double-bogey six, but the damage was limited by Koepka also dropping a shot.
Three birdies in the next six holes then saw Johnson stretch his lead and remain firmly on course to repeat his victory of 2013.
Koepka, whose unhappy day was completed with a bogey on the 18th, said: “There were five holes that were just a disaster there from eight to 12. Nine was all right but ten, to put that wedge shot in the bunker was pretty poor, especially when you’ve got so much room.
“The start was really good. The first seven holes I thought was pretty solid and the rest of it very up and down.”
Stenson’s 69 was his third sub-70 round of the week, but the world No.9 admitted he would have his work cut out to catch Johnson this morning. “My game plan is going to be the same,” Stenson said. “I’ve got a game plan how to play my best, or what I think is my best on this golf course and I’m going to stick to that. It’s been working pretty good so far.
“But if Dustin keeps on playing the way that he’s done this week, I think it’s going to be a one-man show tomorrow. But you never know, tough winds, and this golf course has a couple of holes where you certainly can have a number. It’s never over until it’s over.”
Richie Ramsay, the only Scot in the field, is 20 shots off the pace after carding 75 yesterday, his worst round of the week following a 73 on Thursday and 71 on Friday. He hit four birdies yesterday but three bogeys and also double bogeys at holes 5 and 18 ruined his day.
On the LPGA circuit, meanwhile, Cristie Kerr fired a six-under 65 to take a one-stroke lead over defending champion Feng Shanshan at the Sime Darby.
The American veteran, who posted the tournament’s lowest score of 63 on Friday, had five birdies in the opening nine holes of the third round and got two more for an overall 15-under 198.
“I’m just going to enjoy it,” Kerr said of today’s final round as she aims to clinch her first title in six months. “I’m just going to try to not put too much pressure on myself. I try to do the best on every shot, so that’s my mantra tomorrow.”
Former top-ranked Lydia Ko, the first-round leader, saw her title challenge all but end after posting a 70 to end the day tied for 12th on seven-under 206. China’s Feng shot a three-under 68 to stay in firm contention at TPC Kuala Lumpur.