Dustin Johnson (Getty Images)
America’s Dustin Johnson equalled the Sheshan International course record with a brilliant nine under par 63 to take control of the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai.
The Ryder Cup star birdied six of his first seven holes in a blistering start and, having dropped his only shot of the day at the tenth, picked up four shots in his last six holes.
That took the big-hitting Johnson to 12 under par, and five shots clear of compatriots Bubba Watson and Boo Weekley and Northern Ireland’s first round leader Rory McIlroy.
Former World Number One McIlroy reached ten under par with a hat-trick of birdies on the way out, but did not create a single birdie opportunity on the back nine and paid a heavy price for a gamble on the last.
Having seen his tee shot leak right and finish a yard from the water, the undeterred 24 year old went for the green in two at the par five but only succeeded in finding the lake. After taking a drop, McIlroy fired a spectacular fourth to ten feet, but missed the putt for a third bogey of the day and level par 72.
Johnson also hit a wayward tee-shot at the 18th - his effort veering left into the trees – but after laying up the 29 year old pitched to ten feet and holed his tenth birdie putt of the day.
“I'm definitely happy where I'm at,” said Johnson. “I’ve played really well the last two days - I've really driven the ball well.
“For me, that's a big key. I drove it well today and I hit a lot of good iron shots, and I think it's tough to get it really close to these holes, but I made a lot of nice ten-15 footers today.”
Asked about his plan for the weekend given his healthy advantage, Johnson added: “I don't tend to play defensively.
“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 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.”
McIlroy had appeared to be back to his best with his opening 65 on Thursday, but the World Number Six was frustrated with his lack of control on the back nine.
However, The Ryder Cup star is still well placed to contend for a first victory of 2013 over the weekend, and looks likely to do enough to move into the top 60 on The Race to Dubai and reach the DP World Tour Championship.
“Obviously played nicely the front nine and then started to hit a lot of sloppy shots on the back,” he said. “I missed the last six greens in a row; missed seven greens on the back nine, so a bit of work needed on the range this afternoon.
“I just 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.
“I think I hit the first ten greens, and then I made bogey on 11 and I had a chance at 12 and then from there on 13, I hit a bad drive up the left and that just knocked my confidence a little bit and I started to struggle from there. A bit of work on the range this afternoon and hopefully come out tomorrow and play a bit better.”
“It would have been nice to play a bit better and start tomorrow with a few more shots in hand but I guess I'm in a decent position going into the weekend, and still have a great chance at winning this tournament.”
Former Masters Tournament winner Watson shot a three under par 69, while Weekley – who was one of the stars of the 2008 Ryder Cup before dropping out of the Official World Golf Ranking’s top 600 but is now back up to 52nd – carded a 67.
England’s Tommy Fleetwood bogeyed the last in a 70 that put him in a tie for fifth on six under on his World Golf Championships debut, along with defending champion Ian Poulter, former US Open winner Graeme McDowell, four-time Major winner Ernie Els and Spanish pair Sergio Garcia and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño.