Dustin Johnson soared up the leaderboard, firing a nine-under 63 that included 10 birdies and one bogey to steer him five clear of the field as he heads into the weekend at the HSBC Champions. Johnson usurped his long-hitting, bomber style of play to overpower Sheshan International Golf Club, rolling in birdies on six of his first seven holes to quickly catch first-round leader Rory McIlroy.
The longest club Johnson hit for his approach shot all day was an 8-iron. Yes, an 8-iron! (Which he hits, like, 200 yards, naturally.) The keys to his course-record tying round were his solid driving and making a fair number of putts from 10-15 feet as a result of good approach shots. In other words, he had a fantastic day, where everything was working for him.
“I’m definitely happy where I’m at,” said Johnson. “You know, I played really well the last two days. Got off to a fast start yesterday, 2-over. Actually 1-over through the first nine holes, and then played good on the front side, which was my back side. Then started right back up today and played really good on the front. And another good, solid back nine.
“Fust the last two days, I’ve really drove the ball really well. For me, that’s a big key. Drove it well today and I hit a lot of good iron shots, and I think it’s kind of tough to get it really close to these holes, but you know, I made a lot of nice ten, 15-footers today.”
Johnson was asked some peculiar, yet amusing questions by the Chinese press. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights:
Q. Did you know that you have a lot of female fans in China, and they are asking you, have you brought your beautiful girlfriend to China?
DUSTIN JOHNSON: Yeah, it’s my fiancée. Yeah, she’s here.
Q. What kind of support do you think your fiancée has provided you so far in your career?
DUSTIN JOHNSON: She travels a lot with me, so she gives me a lot of support. I think she likes it. So, yeah, she’s very supportive of me.
Q. Does she like China?
DUSTIN JOHNSON: Yeah, she’s enjoyed it so far.
Q. Has your fiancée noticed that she has a lot of rivals for your affections?
DUSTIN JOHNSON: I have no idea. I’m sure she does but I don’t know. She doesn’t bother me with that.
Actually, the translation of the first question wasn’t 100% accurate. From what I interpreted, he was told that he has a lot of female fans in China who find him very attractive and athletic, etc., and whether or not he was aware of his large fan base here.
DJ was also reminded of his 82 in the third round at last year’s HSBC Champions — which was played at a different venue than this year (Mission Hills) — despite his solid scores in the 60s the other days. It was like, thanks, dude, I had tried to forget about that.
“I shot a 35-47,” said Johnson, smiling amusedly. “That’s how I shot 82. I made a couple I made a triple, a double, a quad, I don’t know. It was a bad day. Don’t really think about it.”
He doesn’t foresee a similar mishap in the third round this time, though.
“Well, let’s hope so,” he said, laughing, when asked if that would be avoided since it’s a different venue. “But yeah, it’s a completely different golf course than Mission Hills. For me, I like this golf course a lot better. It seems to fit my eye pretty well, and I enjoy playing it a little bit more, too.”
As I mentioned, Dustin has opened a five-shot lead, which doesn’t lend to defensive golf the next two rounds — and it’s rare he plays anything but aggressively, anyway.
“Well, I don’t tend to play defensively,” said Johnson. “You know, I just play my game and I play pretty aggressive. That’s my game. So, tomorrow I’m going to go out and try to do the same thing I did today. I mean, I didn’t play really aggressive today. I just took what the golf course gave me and just tried to hit quality golf shots to give myself looks at birdies.”
His 63 tied a course record previously set by six other players:
Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy slid down the leaderboard, but luckily, there wasn’t too much damage done at the end of the day. McIlroy opened with a three-shot lead in the first round, which he maintained when he made the turn on Friday. However, a few errant drives on the back nine threw off his confidence and he missed seven of nine greens, including the last six.
“It was disappointing, frustrating,” said McIlroy, describing his second round, even-par 72. “Obviously played nicely the front nine and then started to hit a lot of sloppy shots on the back.
“It was just one of those things. I 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. I didn’t hit a lot of quality shots on the back nine.”
Rory hit the first 10 greens in regulation and looked confident as he made the turn, but a bogey on no. 11 — which he also botched in the first round — caused him to lose his momentum and he struggled for the rest of the day.
“I had a chance at 12 and then from there on 13, I hit a bad drive up the left and then just sort of knocked my confidence a little bit and started to struggle from there,” said McIlroy, whose first-round seven-under 65 tied his lowest round to par of the year. “A bit of work on the range this afternoon and hopefully I’ll come out tomorrow and play better.”
Rory is tied for second with Bubba Watson and Boo Weekley.
On that note, let’s end with the quote of the day from Boo.
When asked about his trip to China, he said, “Yeah, it’s fun Just can’t understand them.”
He hasn’t explored much beyond the hotel and golf course, but neither have many of the other players, but that’s just fine with Boo (as long as they serve beer at the hotel bar!).
“I’m all right,” he said. “I don’t need nothing. I’m all right.”
Oh, yeah, Tommy Fleetwood deserves a shout-out. The 22-year-old Englishman shot a two-under 70 for a two-day total six-under and he’s currently T5 at the halfway mark. Meanwhile, 21-year-old Jordan Spieth slid down the ‘board seven spots, posting a one-under 71, five-under total. The American phenom is still T11 with a pack of players, including Keegan Bradley, Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose.
By the way, I found out today that the Chinese are big fans of Jason Dufner. His aloof mystique transcends languages and cultures and they find him intriguing and amusing, along with “cute” as one Chinese reporter described.
(AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)