For the eighth time in their careers, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson were set to tee it up together in the third round of a US PGA Tour event, with Johnson coming out on top in four of the first seven.
Early in Saturday’s round at the WGC-HSBC Champions, Koepka was well on his way to squaring up their head-to-head total, but couldn’t overcome a disastrous triple-bogey 8 at the par-5 eighth at Sheshan International Golf Club. After that, all Johnson needed was a four-under 68 to open up a six-shot lead at 17-under 199, a 54-hole tournament record.
Koepka, 27, made three consecutive birdies to start his round, giving him a two-shot lead at 15 under. Johnson tied it up at the par-4 seventh with a birdie, and the duo went to the eighth for what set up to be an exciting final stretch in Shanghai.
It was anything but, as Koepka’s wayward drive led to an aggressive play from the fairway on his fourth shot, which hooked wildly into the left trees near the green. Johnson rolled in a lengthy birdie putt for a four-shot swing that Koepka couldn’t overcome. The reigning US Open champion finished with a one-over 73, putting him in solo second place and in need of a similar slip up from Johnson to challenge for his third career victory.
If Johnson’s able to win as he holds a career best 54-hole edge, it will be his second victory at the WGC-HSBC Champions, the first coming in 2013 with a record score of 24 under. It would also give him his sixth WGC, distancing himself in second place on the career WGC all-time win list, where he currently sits 13 back of Tiger Woods’ total of 18. Winning Sunday would make him the first player to ever win three WGCs in one year.
“Tomorrow going in, I’m not going to change anything,” Johnson said. “Same game plan. You know, play the golf course just how I’ve been playing it. These are big events, some of our biggest events we have on tour. Obviously the best players in the world are here. It’s golf tournaments that I obviously always want to put myself in position to win, which I’m in a good position going into tomorrow. But I’m still going to have to go out and play a really solid round if I want to get it done.”
World No.9 Henrik Stenson is seven shots off Johnson’s lead after carding a second consecutive three-under 69 that featured just one bogey. Since going through a tough stretch that saw the Swede miss five of six cuts, he’s rebounded with four top-20s and a victory at the Wyndham Championship in August. It’s his fourth appearance in the WGC-HSBC Champions, and anything inside the top 10 would give him his best finish to date.
Brian Harman’s two-under 70 and Justin Rose’s even-par 72 have tied them for fourth at nine-under 207, eight shots back. Kyle Stanley, Peter Uihlein and Rafa Cabrera Bello are nine back at eight-under 208.
New Zealand’s Ryan Fox was T-33 at one-under par and 16 strokes behind Johnson. Michael Hendry was T-52 and another four adrift.