SHANGHAI (AP) — Graeme McDowell’s putter was his most reliable club in the HSBC Champions, and it was enough to keep him in front on Friday.
McDowell wound up in the rough more often than he would like. He didn’t hit the ball as cleanly with his irons. He still managed a bogey-free round of 5-under 67 to build a three-shot lead over the suddenly resurgent Ian Poulter going into the weekend at Sheshan International.
Masters champion Bubba Watson birdied his last five holes for a 67 and was four shots behind, along with Hiroshi Iwata of Japan, who had a 65.
“I missed a lot more fairways,” McDowell said. “My putter obviously is in good form, and I hung in there. I’m right where I want to be.”
It’s a familiar place, especially with Poulter in the mix.
McDowell and Poulter were in the final group a year ago at this World Golf Championship, both trying unsuccessfully to keep up with Dustin Johnson. The big-hitting American did not return to defend at the HSBC Champions during his “voluntary leave,” and McDowell has reason not to miss him.
“From his display last year, I’m glad he’s not here. He looked unbeatable last year the way he played this golf course,” McDowell said. “We’ve got a fairly decent replacement in Bubba, who in his own way has the same kind of talents. In many ways, it’s a very similar scenario — myself and Poults against a long-hitting American. I feel good. I have to improve tee-to-green to have a chance.”
McDowell was at 10-under 134, and another good day of scoring could really give the former U.S. Open champion some separation.
Then again, it’s not difficult to get sideways on a course with ample rough and plenty of trouble if players get out of position. Adam Scott found that out. He was making a big run at McDowell early in the second round with four birdies in seven holes to get within two of the lead.
One shot set off a chain reaction of bad shots.
He drove well left into the water hazard on the 603-yard eighth hole and had to take his drop on one of the forward tees. He tried to reach the green in two, came up short in the gnarly rough and his pitch over the creek tumbled off the green and into a hazard against a large rock. Scott took another penalty drop and went to the other side of the creek again, pitched on, and took two putts for a quadruple-bogey 9, effectively erasing those four birdies.
Then, he put his approach in the water on No. 9 and took double bogey. He had to scramble for a 72 and was eight shots behind.
Jordan Spieth played a five-hole stretch to start the back nine in even par — bogey-birdie-triple bogey-eagle-birdie. That triple bogey, along with a double bogey on the front nine with a tee shot into the water at the par-3 sixth, sent him to a 74, and 10 shots behind.
Rickie Fowler opened with 14 straight pars, added a few birdies and shot 70 to reach 5-under 139, along with Tim Clark (70), Jonas Blixt (68) and Kevin Na (68).
Poulter has been sliding in the world ranking — No. 44 after starting the season at No. 12 — and he was getting desperate for a good showing. Feeling healthy, and with new equipment in his bag, this is the best he has looked all year. Poulter was still five shots behind when he ran off four birdies in the final five holes.
“We’ve got 36 holes to go. You’ve got 36 potential birdies. So three shots is pretty close,” Poulter said. “I played with Graeme in the last round last year. He likes this golf course and played well, and I’ve had success around here, as well. So if you’re within six shots, then you’ve got a great chance on Sunday.”
Watson began his run with a birdie on the par-5 14th. With a breeze at his back, he hit gap wedge on the 487-yard 15th hole to 8 feet for birdie, and then took one putt over the last three holes. He chipped in from behind the 16th green, used his 4-wood to hole a putt from the collar on the par-3 17th, and chipped to tap-in range on the par-5 18th for his fifth straight birdie.
“Anybody that plays golf says length is an advantage, but you’ve got to hit the fairways,” Watson said. “So I’d rather be a great putter than a long hitter, especially if you’re a crooked, long hitter.”
DIVOTS: Brody Ninyette of Australia shot 90 and was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. … FedEx Cup champion Billy Horschel, who opened with an 80, didn’t fare much better on Friday. He had a 77 and was 23 shots out of the lead.
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.