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SHANGHAI – Dustin Johnson shot a 4-under 68 in blustery conditions that led to big numbers, building a 6-shot lead in the WGC-HSBC Champions and leaving him one round away from becoming the first player to win three World Golf Championships in the same year.
He got plenty of help from Brooks Koepka.
They were tied for the lead through seven holes Saturday until a four-shot swing on the par-5 eighth hole. Koepka drove into the hazard off the tee, and then found the hazard again on his approach to the green. He missed a 6-foot putt and took triple-bogey 8.
Johnson smashed his drive over the trees and into the fairway, and with a thick splotch of mud on his golf ball, he sent that into the left rough above the green. He hit a flop shot to 15 feet and holed it for birdie.
Just like that, his lead was four shots, and no one got any closer the rest of the way.
Johnson was at 17-under 199. Koepka hit into the water from a bunker on the par-5 closing hole at Sheshan International and had to make a 6-footer to save bogey. That gave him a 73, leaving him six shots behind.
Henrik Stenson, finally starting to round into form, shot 69 and was at 10-under 206.
Even with more wind anticipated Sunday, this was turning into another exhibition for Johnson, the world’s No. 1 player.
I’m in a good position going into tomorrow, Johnson said. But I’m still going to have to go out and play a really solid round if I want to get it done.
Johnson earlier this year won the WGC-Mexico Championship and the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Texas. Not even Tiger Woods with his 18 titles in the World Golf Championships ever won more than two in one year.
Johnson already has five such titles, and he’s the only player to have won each of the four. He won the WGC-HSBC Champions four years ago.
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, Stenson said. But you never know. Tough wind, and this golf course has a couple of holes where you can certainly have a number. It’s never over until it’s over.
Koepka discovered the hard way how big numbers can wreck a round.
The U.S. Open champion was practically flawless at the start, running off three straight birdies to take a two-shot lead. Johnson responded with a 15-foot birdie putt on the par-3 fourth and driving into the rough just short of the par-4 seventh green, hitting a delicate flop-and-run to 3 feet for birdie to catch Koepka.
And then after a lengthy wait on the tee at No. 8, it all changed.
With the wind at the players’ backs, and with sheer power of Johnson and Koepka, the line was over trees that have grown so tall in recent years they can’t see the fairway. Johnson hammered his tee shot and knew from experience he was fine.
Koepka caught his drive on the toe and it turned over from right-to-left. His caddie ran down toward the area to see if he had a shot, and quickly realized it was gone. Koepka hit his third shot from the tee, and then his fourth turned left into the hazard again. He had no choice but to take another penalty and head back to the fairway, and after a good wedge, he missed the putt for his 8.
Koepka also missed good birdie chances on No. 9 and 11, and good par chances on Nos. 10 and 12 that he felt could have given him momentum.
It was definitely windier today, he said. I didn’t think it was playing that difficult. Definitely should be able to shoot 4 under out here, minus a triple and whatever else I had, a lot of bogeys.
He wasn’t alone.
One reason for the waiting on the front nine was Patrick Reed, who had a triple bogey on the opening hole and a pair of double bogeys for an outward nine of 44. Two more double bogeys on the back nine led to an 82.
Si Woo Kim made an 11 on the eighth hole.
Sheshan International played to an average score of 72.73, two shots harder than the opening round. Conditions likely will be tougher for the final round, made even more difficult by the No. 1 player ahead by six shots.
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