Dustin Johnson shot his second consecutive bogey-free round to build a two-shot lead at 11-under par after two rounds of the WGC-Mexico Championship at Club de Golf Chapultepec in Mexico City.
Trailing Rory McIlroy by one shot entering the second round, Johnson found himself four shots back after the Northern Irishman birdied three of his first four holes. But Johnson continued his steady play while McIlroy ran into mid-round trouble, finishing Friday in a tie for second at 9-under with Matt Kuchar.
Since McIlroy got into the clubhouse first with his 1-under 70 on Friday, he will be paired with Johnson in the final group on Saturday. Kuchar will be paired with Spain’s Sergio Garcia, who is tied for fourth place with England’s Tommy Fleetwood at 7-under. Fleetwood tied for the low round of the day with his 7-under 65 despite missing a short putt on No. 17.
Fellow Englishman Ian Poulter and Australia’s Cameron Smith are another shot off the pace at 6-under. Tiger Woods was one shot off the low round of the day with his 66, which vaulted him 17 spots and into a five-tie for eighth place at 5-under.
Lefty’s big bounce-back
No one had a bigger bounce-back Friday than Phil Mickelson. The defending champion moved up 31 spots by matching Fleetwood’s 65, and Mickelson’s 14-stroke improvement from the previous day was the largest single-round bounce-back in his 600 career PGA Tour events.
Johnson hasn’t experienced any such turbulence through the first two days. While acknowledging Chapultepec has narrow fairways, he said the tree-lined holes keep him focused and Johnson carded four birdies in posting a 4-under 67 on Friday.
He only hit half of the fairways in the second round, but hit 17 of 18 greens in posting bogey-free rounds during the first two rounds of an event for the first time in his career.
“I think I have a very good game plan,” Johnson told reporters. “I don’t really play too aggressive here, but when you can I try to be aggressive. And try to get myself some good looks at birdie, but off the tee I can’t be too aggressive.”
Steady as he goes
Johnson has now been in the Top 10 after nine of his past 10 rounds at the event, which is contested more than 7,000 feet above sea level and features many players hitting their long irons more than 300 yards.
“I just enjoy playing this kind of golf,” Johnson told the Golf Channel. “It makes you focus, you’ve got to think. You’re doing a lot of calculations with the numbers and trying to figure out how far the ball actually is going to go. I enjoy it.”
It looked early on like McIlroy might run away and hide. He was 11-under when he took a rip at the green on the par-5 sixth hole with his second shot. But McIlroy’s ball found the water and he wound up with a bogey.
He still held a one-shot lead when he stood over a birdie putt on the ninth hole. Having been perfect on all 24 putts inside 10 feet for the week to the point, McIlroy’s attempt lipped-out. He also missed the come-back putt for bogey and suddenly found himself looking up at Johnson on the scoreboard.
McIlroy did rebound to birdie the 14th hole to get into that powerhouse final group on Saturday.
“We’ve still got 36 holes to go,” Johnson said. “I feel like I’m in a good position going into the weekend, but a two-shot lead is not very much. Especially not around here.”
Woods fared much better in just his second career professional round in Mexico, improving by five shots over his first-round score. That included a shot from a fairway bunker that sliced around a tree and came within a foot or two of holing out.
“I realized that, ‘geez I really gotta slice this thing,'” he told reporters. “So I opened up and gave it as much of a cut motion as I could and it worked out.”
–Field Level Media