Despite rolling in 10 birdies and playing one of the best rounds of his life on Saturday in the third round of the HSBC Champions, Dustin Johnson walked off Sheshan International rather disappointed. He fired a six-under 66, but he wasn’t jumping for joy afterwards because of his poor finish and missed opportunity to open a five-shot lead heading into the final round after making a double-bogey on the reachable-in-two par-5 18th.
The long-hitting American hit an errant drive on the last, which found the water hazard. Johnson decided to err on the side of caution and re-tee instead of
being cavalier with the rules (sorry, I couldn’t resist!) dropping where the ball last crossed the hazard line. Given Johnson’s own run-in with the rules (Whistling Straits, etc.) and the fact he’s leading, he likely made the wise decision at the end of the day.
“It was really close,” said Johnson on his decision to reload. “So that definitely you know, it was too close to be able to tell. So I just re-teed it. Obviously hit a really good drive after that, and then just kind of drew a bad lie in the bunker over there. Definitely, I had a little bit better chance of saving at least bogey.”
Johnson couldn’t reach the green from his second drive, and then, he hit his chip — his fourth shot — heavy, and his ball didn’t land far enough up the slope and rolled back down to his feet. Which was similar to what happened on the other hole he double-bogeyed, no. 10, except it took him three attempts to get his ball on the green and that time it hit the flagstick. He even had to make a 12-footer to post a 6.
Otherwise, Johnson played rather flawlessly.
“It was another really good day,” he said. “I played really well. My irons, I was hitting them the right distance and I made a lot of good putts. Obviously the two doubles hurt a little bit.
“After the double on 10, I came back and made four birdies, finished with a double on 18 and it kind of stunk, especially the par 5, it’s very reachable for me. Then I just hit a poor tee shot.”
That last hole naturally left Dustin with a crappy taste in his mouth afterwards and he was still reeling from it in his post-round presser (though, by now, I’m sure he’s over it).
“I’m still a little mad from my double-bogey on 18,” he said. “Yeah, obviously to have a three-shot lead going into the last day is good, and looking forward to the challenge. I still have to play really well. Obviously the guys that are right behind me, they are playing very well, too. So it’s still going to be a tough day tomorrow. Got to come out and make a lot of birdies.”
Though the course was for the taking, he would have happily taken a six-under 66 before hitting his opening drive.
“It’s a good score,” said Johnson. “I’m definitely happy with what I shot. Obviously I’m just not happy with the way I finished. Making two doubles, there’s no excuse for that. Especially the way I’m playing right now, it shouldn’t happen.
“But 66 is still a good day and I’ve still got to look, I did make ten birdies, so I hit a lot of great shots and drove it well again today. Just hit one bad drive really on 18 and made double-bogey. But other than that, it was a good day, and I can’t be too upset with it.”
Johnson’s closest competitor is Ian Poulter, a very different type of player than the American bomber. The Englishman trails by three at 15-under through 54 holes, while Graeme McDowell heads into Sunday at 14-under. Here are Poulter and McDowell’s eagles on nos. 14 and 16, respectively:
Can Dustin hold on to win his 2013-14 season-opener? He won the weather-shortened opening event of the year for 2013, the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in January, but he says the new season with the wraparound calendar schedule hasn’t really hit him yet and he still feels like it’s the same one.
“Graeme and Ian are great players, so tomorrow I’ve still got to come out and play really good golf,” said Johnson. “You know, it’s a golf course where if you’re playing well, you can shoot a good score, so tomorrow I’m going to come out and try to do the same things I did during the last two days. You know, just get in the fairway, get on the green and try to hole the putt.”
McDowell knows he has his work cut out for him just to catch DJ.
“Dustin, obviously great frontrunner, doing what he needed to do today,” said G-Mac. “Just nice to be in contention going into tomorrow. I know conditions are going to be fairly similar again tomorrow and I’ll have to go low to even finish second here.”
Added Poulter, who is trying to successfully defend his title: “I have to do my thing tomorrow. It’s only Saturday. You can’t win tournaments on Saturday. It’s all about playing well on Sunday. I need to do that. I need to make plenty of birdies, try and make an eagle; if I can, I can get close.”
Meanwhile, Rory McIlroy had a solid back nine to post a five-under 67, 12-under total, which puts him at T4 at the moment.
(Top photo: AP)