Shanghai: Against an international cast of contenders, Dustin Johnson pulled away with power and a clutch putt to win his first World Golf Championship on Sunday.
Johnson played a pivotal five-hole stretch on the back nine in five-under par, seizing control by pitching in for eagle from just short of the green on the par-four 16th. He followed with an eight-foot birdie putt on the 17th and closed with a six-under 66 for a three-shot win over Ian Poulter in the HSBC Champions.
“It was a lot of fun out there,” said Johnson, who set a tournament record at 24-under 264. “Those guys put a lot of pressure on me. I’m really proud of the way I handled myself.”
He started the final round with a three-shot lead and lost it in two holes, but it was not just Poulter who made the 29-year-old American sweat.
Graeme McDowell also had a share of the lead of the lead at one point, and they battled across Sheshan International for the better part of four hours on a cloudy, hazy afternoon that made it feel like twilight.
Poulter, who won last year at Mission Hills, closed with a 66 to finish alone in second while McDowell also had a 66 to finish third. Sergio Garcia birdied half of his holes for a 63. At one point, the leaderboard featured Johnson and half of Europe’s winning Ryder Cup team from Medinah.
It was the second straight PGA Tour season that Johnson won the first tournament he played — even though it was in the same year. His last win was the Tournament of Championship at Kapalua in January. This is the first time the tour has gone to a wraparound season, which began a month ago.
Johnson now has won in each of his first seven seasons on the PGA Tour, the most by any player since Woods in his first 14 seasons through 2009.
He opened with a three-putt bogey and duffed a chip on the second hole, which prevented him from making birdie. Poulter birdied his opening two holes while McDowell started with three straight birdies, and all of them were tied at 17-under.
Johnson began to recover by closing out the front nine with back-to-back birdies.
The tournament took shape, however, over the final two hours starting on the 13th. Johnson hit a massive tee shot over the corner of the slight dogleg, leaving him a short wedge to five feet for birdie to tie Poulter for the lead, with McDowell one shot behind.
On the par-five 14th, Poulter appeared to have a big edge. He reached the green with a fairway metal and lagged his 40-foot eagle putt to within inches. Johnson found the rough off the tee, had to lay up and hit a poor chip to 20 feet. McDowell was in the deep collar of rough around a bunker and did well to hit a chunk-and-run to 40 feet. McDowell’s long birdie putt banged into the back of the cup, and Johnson rolled in his birdie putt to stay tied.
Poulter fell back with an approach into the bunker left of the 15th green for bogey.
Johnson put them away with his power on the 16th. The pin was to the front, making it risky for anyone to try to drive the green. But Johnson has such strength that he was able to hit three-iron off the tee — as he had done previous rounds — to 25 yards short. His pitch was so pure it rolled into the cup as if it were a putt.
The eagle gave him a two-shot lead, and he widened it with another great shot for birdie at the 17th.
“Dustin Johnson was in a different league off the tee and gave us a little bit of a sniff, and then promptly slammed the door,” McDowell said. “So a lot of fun. Really enjoyed it.”
US Open champion Justin Rose (68) finished alone in fifth, while Rory McIlroy (69) and Graham DeLaet (69) were another shot behind.
McDowell’s third-place finish at least allowed him to make up big ground on Henrik Stenson in the Race to Dubai, with the Northern Irishman now trailing by around €140,000 (Dh693,407). McDowell is not playing the Turkish Open next week, but did enough that a shot at the European Tour money title is still in reach when he gets to Dubai in two weeks.