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Safety First Sunday

Dustin Johnson is not looking to do anything too dramatic in the final round of the WGC-HSBC Champions at Sheshan.  He has had two 68s with a 63 sandwiched between them and he is as many as six shots clear of Brooks Koepka and seven ahead of Henrik Stenson. So why would he do anything crazy?


Johnson, who is aiming to capture his second WGC-HSBC Champions and his sixth WGC event, know that incidents can come out of nowhere on this course: there is no need to encourage them.  For instance, when he was playing the 401 yards tenth today, he hit an entirely good tee shot which took it upon itself to land on a cart path and finish in a bush.  This most laid-back of men did not let it bother him.


He had three birdies over the last eight holes and, if he did not exactly finish in style at the 538 yards 18th, he would have prided himself on doing one more sensible thing. His tee shot had got the thumbs up but he was soon looking at the mud on his ball and a downhill lie: “I was in between and three iron and a four and I just didn’t really like the shot. It wasn’t a good idea to try for the green. I thought to myself that if I just laid it up in the fairway I’m still going to have a good look at a birdie.”


The putt didn’t drop but he was hardly going to complain on a day when others had so much more to grumble about.


Koepka, for one. He had been no-worse placed than a shot behind Johnson at the start of the day but, when it came to the eighth, a veritable accident blackspot, he was responsible for one among a handful of eights. The US Open champion’s drive had done the damage though, at the end of the day, he was rather more concerned with his putting.  Try as he might, he could make none of the momentum putts he needed to stay up there with his good friend-cum-foe.


He dropped one more putt at the 18th to finish with a six and a 73 but, on this occasion, Koepka was hanged if he was going to take the blame. When asked if a camera had gone off and shook his head. “Fifty would be more like it!” he suggested.


Stenson is an interesting one. Up until today, he wasn’t best pleased with either his technical or mental game.  In what was his second successive 69, though, everything changed for the better. “The technical and mental things worked well. I’m in good shape, even if I’m only playing for second.


“I’ve got a game plan with regard to how I’m going to play my best or what I think is my best on this course and I’m going to stick with it.”


“If,” said Stenson, Dustin keeps on playing the way he’s been doing, it’s going to be a one-horse show. But you never know. The wind’s set to get tougher and this course has a couple of holes where you can certainly have a number.”


So Woo Kim would have given a knowing nod at that. This very mannerly Korean player had an eleven at the aforementioned eighth – and still managed to give a sheepish chuckle at the end of it.


Let’s give the last word to Johnson.  In answer as to whether he would sooner win by a single shot or by the proverbial mile, he didn’t need to stop and think.


“I’d much rather win by a large margin any day.”


He was sounding like Tiger.