SHANGHAI — The HSBC Champions has a familiar look to Graeme McDowell, with a few exceptions.
He goes into the weekend at Sheshan International in contention for a World Golf Championship, with Ian Poulter and a big-hitting American alongside. Only, now, the American is Masters champion Bubba Watson — not Dustin Johnson, who overpowered the course on his way to victory last year.
And at least this time, McDowell has the lead.
McDowell leaned on a hot putter to carry him to another 5-under 67 on Friday. That gave him a three-shot lead over Poulter, with Watson and Hiroshi Iwata of Japan right behind.
Tournament organizers might be missing the presence of Johnson, the defending champion who is on a “voluntary leave” for what he described as personal challenges. Just don’t count McDowell among them, especially not the way Johnson set the tournament record at 24-under 264.
“He looked unbeatable last year the way he played this golf course,” McDowell said. “But we’ve got a fairly decent replacement in Bubba, who in his own way has got the same kind of talents as Dustin, the way he drives it and the short game. In many ways, it’s a very similar scenario — myself and Poults against the long-hitting American.”
McDowell saved par when he had to and strung together back-to-back birdies early and late in his round to reach 10-under 134.