Despite stumbles, DJ keeps HSBC lead through 54

By Doug FergusonNovember 2, 2013, 11:33 am

SHANGHAI – For 16 holes, Dustin Johnson looked like the player who has won every year since turning pro and has played on two Ryder Cup teams. Starting the third round of the HSBC Champions with a five-shot lead, he blasted his way to 10 birdies and was running away from the field.

As for the other two holes, it was a reminder that no lead is safe in his hands.

All those birdies were offset by two double bogeys, the last one cutting his lead in half going into the final round of this World Golf Championship. About the only thing that cheered him up Saturday afternoon was a 6-under 66 for a three-shot lead over Ian Poulter.


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''It's a good score,'' Johnson said. ''I'm definitely happy with what I shot. 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.''

Johnson ran off five straight birdies to close out a 30 on the front nine of Sheshan International and a five-shot lead over Poulter. For his next trick, the 29-year-old American hit wedge four times from inside 100 yards before he could get the ball on the green at the 10th hole. He had to make a 12-foot putt for double bogey.

He followed with another run of four straight birdies, hitting a 5-iron into 15 feet for a two-putt birdie on the par-5 14th, and a 3-iron to the front of the 16th green for a chip-and-putt birdie that stretched his lead to six shots.

Everything changed in the final half-hour of a soft, gentle day for scoring in Shanghai.

Poulter, who shot 30 on the front nine without making birdie on either of the par 5s, closed with a birdie on the par-5 18th for a 63. He thought that was a good day of work, even though he wasn't making up any ground on Johnson.

''This golf course gives up a lot of birdies, and he's a good player,'' Poulter said. ''And in this form, he's going to make a lot of birdies. I just need to do my thing tomorrow and make a lot more than what he does. I'm going to have to see what happens coming down the stretch.''

Poulter was talking about Sunday afternoon. He didn't realize he would be getting some help on Saturday.

Johnson's tee shot sailed to the right and into the middle of the lake on the 18th. It appeared that he could have dropped further up the fairway, but playing partners Boo Weekley and Bubba Watson didn't offer much help as to where (or if) the shot ever crossed land before it entered the hazard. Not wanting to take any chance, Johnson opted to return to the tee. He ripped another drive down the edge of the water, this time with his draw to reach the fairway.

But his approach went left near the lip of a bunker, and he did well to blast out to 15 feet and take two putts for his 7.

Johnson was at 18-under 198 and will be in the final group with Poulter and Graeme McDowell, who had a 64 and was four shots behind.

Rory McIlroy birdied three of his last five holes for a 67 and was six shots behind, along with Graham DeLaet and U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, who each had a 65.

They still had an outside chance, though so much of that depends on Johnson and how to he responds to his pair of double bogeys.

''I'm still a little mad from my double bogey on 18,'' Johnson said. ''Obviously, to have a three-shot lead going into the last day is good and I'm looking forward to the challenge. I still have to play really well. The guys that are right behind me, they're 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.''

That wasn't the problem – for Johnson and most everyone else.

Martin Kaymer, who won the HSBC Champions two years ago by tying the course record with a 63 in the final round, went one better. The German started with six birdies in seven holes and thought briefly about a 59 with three straight birdies on the front nine that put him at 10-under with three to play. He missed an 8-foot birdie on No. 7, failed to birdie the par-5 eighth and had to settle for a course-record 62.

Kaymer was eight shots behind.

''I've shot 59 before and I thought, 'There's a chance,' especially after my birdies on 4, 5, 6,'' Kaymer said. ''But you can't make them all.''

McDowell was six shots out of the lead when he finished and it looked as though he might lose ground to Johnson. Even so, McDowell has a lot at stake on Sunday at No. 2 on the European Tour money list, and he could move past Henrik Stenson in the Race to Dubai if he were to finish alone in second.

''From here, it looks like Dustin is going to have to beat himself for anybody to have a chance to catch him,'' McDowell said. ''Race to Dubai points will be very important to me. I have a lot to play for tomorrow. If not the trophy, second place will certainly be worth my while.''

And then, the trophy became a little more realistic.

''I have to do my thing tomorrow,'' Poulter said. ''It's only Saturday. You can't win tournaments on Saturday. It's all about playing well on Sunday.''

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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.