Graeme McDowell reduced Henrik Stenson’s lead at the top of the Race to Dubai to just €145,865 as he combined with Ian Poulter to make Dustin Johnson fight tooth and claw for victory in the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai.
The Ulsterman was forced to settle for third place behind the American, who played his last seven holes in five under and shot the second lowest aggregate in the history of the World Golf Championshps to see off Poulter by three shots on 24 under par.
All three shot six under 66s on the final day at Sheshan International and having seen his three-shot overnight lead wiped out by McDowell and Poulter after just two holes, Johnson was forced to produce a homeware nine of just 31 strokes to get over the line.
If this week’s performance is any indication, McDowell may well have a chance to deny FedEx Cup winner Stenson the European money title in Dubai in a fortnight having shot four rounds in the 60s for the first time since he captured Tiger Woods’ World Challenge in California nearly a year ago.
“There was a spell there where it was really just quality golf from about the 12th hole onwards and the way Dustin played 15, 16, 17, especially, he’s just a quality player, very talented,” McDowell said. “We know how good he is. You know, just very impressed with the way he finished that off today.
“But like I say, happy from a Race to Dubai point of view, the way I played this week, cuts into Henrik’s lead a little bit. As long as Henrik doesn’t do anything too ‘unsensible’ next week in Turkey, I’ll have a good shot going into Dubai.”
The recently-married Portrush man has opted not to play in the third leg of the European Tour’s Final Series, next week’s Turkish Airlines Open. As a result, Stenson will have the opportunity to all but seal the Race to Dubai title there with his fourth victory in the last 12 months.
Justin Rose and Poulter - respectively €325,100 and €542,524 adrift of Stenson in the Race to Dubai - are also in with a chance of closing the gap as they have decided to play the $7m event in Turkey, where the winner will take home €848,930.
While he confessed that there was “a pang of disappointment” at failing to win, McDowell was delighted to shoot 64-66 on a bogey free weekend and at least give his fellow Lake Nona resident some food for thought before the DP World Tour Championship later this month.
“Would he be better off taking the week off next week?” McDowell mused on Stenson’s decision to play all four of the Final Series events. “Who knows. I’ll be interested to see how he does next week.
“I’ll be fresh. I’ll be ready in Dubai whatever happens, and you know, like I say, just trying to give myself a shot going into Dubai. Proud of the way I played this week. A little bit of work needed on the flat stick. I can put better than I putted this week for sure. Standard of golf, it was quality out there.”
The European Tour will be delighted with the result in Shanghai, which has injected some excitement into what was looking like a procession for Stenson in the Race to Dubai.
With Poulter finishing second, McDowell third and Rose fifth, there is still a chance of a blanket finish at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
“It bodes well for the tournament,” said McDowell, who eventually finished four shots behind Johnson on 20 under par. “You know, this is what we want going into The Race to Dubai.
“This is what the Dubai World Championship is all about, having quality players with a chance to win, not only the tournament, but the Money List and The Race to Dubai for the year.
“So you know, just happy to have another opportunity to do that. Jumeirah Estates Golf Course is one that I’ve slowly crept up on the last few years I feel like and looking forward to getting back there.”
The final round turned out to be a thriller before the American Ryder Cup star produced a sensational finish to pull away from his terrier-like European challengers.
A win by McDowell would have been the 50th by a player from Northern Ireland on the European Tour and catapulted him to the top of the Race to Dubai standings.
At it looked very much on when Johnson three-putted the first for bogey and McDowell holed an 18 footer for birdie.
By the time they reached the fourth tee the three protagonists were tied for the lead on 17 under par as McDowell birdied the first three holes and Poulter the first two.
Poulter then edged a shot in front with a birdie at the fifth and was joined in a share of the lead on 18 under when McDowell birdied the seventh from six feet.
Johnson was one over for the round at that stage but suddenly burst into life with birdies at the eighth and ninth leaving him tied for the lead with Poulter on 19 under.
While McDowell and Poulter both birdied the par-three 12th to leave the English star a shot in front of Johnson and the Portrush man with six to play, the big hitter from South Carolina produced a stunning finish - playing the closing six holes in five under par - to claim the biggest win of his career.
“I wasn’t having too much fun at the start, especially when Graeme and Ian, they were birdieing every hole it seemed like starting out,” Johnson said. “But I knew I just needed to keep playing my game, keep getting it in the fairway.
“And birdieing 8 and 9 were huge for me to get back, at least to shoot 1-under on the front, because it felt like - at one point it wasn’t as easy as it was yesterday but it was still doable with the greens being soft and the greens were rolling so good.
“But honestly, turning on the back side, probably the biggest putt I made was that one on 14 which Ian was already in there for birdie, and Graeme had just holed a 40-footer. So that was a big putt there. And then obviously the pitch-in on 16 and the birdie on 17 was huge.”
After a birdie at the 13th put him back into a share of the lead with Poulter, Johnson matched birdies by McDowell and Poulter at the 14th by holing a 30 footer.
After Poulter bogeyed the 15th to leave Johnson a shot clear, the American then applied the coup the grace at the driveable 16th, hitting a three iron just short of the green before chipping in superbly for an eagle two.
With Poulter making birdie and McDowell only a par, it gave him a two-shot lead and he then picked up a further shot on the par-three 17th hole, giving him a comfortable cushion playing the 18th hole, where he had found the water on Saturday en route to a double bogey.
Unsurprisingly, Johnson hit an iron off the tee this time and laid up with his second shot, eventually missing a short birdie putt after Poulter and McDowell, heroes of Europe’s Ryder Cup victory in Medinah last year, had done likewise.
That meant that 29 year old Johnson claimed his first on The European Tour and maiden World Golf Championships title, along with the first prize of €1,012,145.
“It’s my biggest win I’ve had so far in my career and it feels really good,” he said. “I put a lot of work in this year, and I’ve struggled a lot. I won the first event of the year and I struggled a little bit through the end. But you know, I’ve been putting in a lot of work the last month or two, and it definitely feels really good to get a win.”
Both Poulter and McDowell will find some consolation in gaining vital ground on Swede Henrik Stenson in The Race to Dubai, as well as significant Ryder Cup points.
Poulter said: “I guess it was a good defence. I’m obviously a little disappointed not to put my hands back on the trophy, but 15 birdies and an eagle at the weekend is some pr etty good golf.
“So it’s exciting for the next few weeks ahead, and obviously it’s some good points on the board obviously for Ryder Cup and Race to Dubai.”
With Stenson closing with a round of 65 for the second consecutive week in Shanghai, this time for a share of 31st position, McDowell made a significant inroad into the Swede’s advantage on the Race to Dubai, cutting it to just €145,866 with two events remaining of the Final Series.
“Obviously there is a pang of disappointment, but generally I’m just very proud of myself the way I played this week tee‑to‑green,” said McDowell. “On the greens, there is room for improvement.
“But I didn’t make a bogey all weekend. I shot 14‑under on the weekend and hit the ball really well. I was chasing some great players. 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.”
Paying tribute to Johnson, McDowell said: “The 13th to me kind of personifies Dustin Johnson. He trenches one 350 down the middle and has the hands to hit that 70‑yard shot to the front pin and make the putt.
“He’s just a quality, talented, very athletic classy player. Yeah, he makes mistakes, but when you’ve got a game as good as him, you can get away with a few mistakes, like the double on 18 last night.
“And to be honest with you, he kept the ball in play today - he drove it phenomenal. He’s just got a great wedge game to go with just an outrageously good driving game.”
Spaniard Sergio Garcia produced the lowest round of the day – a superb 63 – to finish fourth on 18 under par, with US Open champion Rose fifth on 16 under par.
WGC-HSBC Champions at Sheshan International Golf Club (par 72)
264 D Johnson (USA) 69 63 66 66,
267 I Poulter (Eng) 71 67 63 66,
268 G McDowell (Nir) 69 69 64 66,
270 S Garcia (Esp) 70 68 69 63,
272 J Rose (Eng) 68 71 65 68,
273 R McIlroy (Nir) 65 72 67 69, G Delaet (Can) 71 68 65 69,
274 M Kaymer (Ger) 70 74 62 68, J Donaldson (Wal) 67 74 66 67, B Watson (USA) 68 69 69 68,
275 K Bradley (USA) 71 68 68 68, E Els (RSA) 69 69 71 66, B Weekley (USA) 70 67 69 69,
276 P Mickelson (USA) 71 68 72 65,
277 L Wen-Chong (Chn) 72 67 72 66, L Oosthuizen (RSA) 70 70 70 67,
278 J Spieth (USA) 68 71 70 69,
279 T Fleetwood (Eng) 68 70 69 72, J Jeong (Kor) 70 69 71 69,
280 P Casey (Eng) 69 73 69 69,
281 B Haas (USA) 72 72 69 68, B Van Pelt (USA) 77 67 66 71, J Van Zyl (RSA) 72 73 68 68, F Molinari (Ita) 72 69 70 70, M Manassero (Ita) 72 70 70 69, S Piercy (USA) 72 73 68 68, S Hend (Aus) 69 74 66 72, M Ilonen (Fin) 72 69 72 68, P Hanson (Swe) 70 73 70 68, G Bourdy (Fra) 75 68 67 71,
282 L Donald (Eng) 70 71 70 71, H Stenson (Swe) 74 76 67 65, N Watney (USA) 75 74 67 66,
283 M Brown (Nzl) 72 68 72 71, H Wen-Yi (Chn) 70 74 69 70, B Horschel (USA) 71 69 72 71, K Streelman (USA) 70 73 72 68, J Dufner (USA) 73 67 71 72,
284 B Grace (RSA) 77 71 67 69, C Wood (Eng) 71 71 73 69, L Hao-Tong (Chn) 72 71 74 67, T Björn (Den) 74 72 70 68, D Lynn (Eng) 74 70 69 71, G Fdez-Castaño (Esp) 67 71 70 76, R Sterne (RSA) 74 73 74 63,
285 K Duke (USA) 70 72 73 70, T Jaidee (Tha) 76 68 68 73, J Walker (USA) 73 73 69 70, B Gay (USA) 71 72 72 70,
286 M Kawamura (Jpn) 73 72 70 71, R Moore (USA) 70 74 69 73, M Thompson (USA) 74 72 68 72, H Fujita (Jpn) 75 70 68 73, M Hendry (Nzl) 72 73 73 68,
287 P Uihlein (USA) 71 73 73 70, B Snedeker (USA) 73 74 70 70, J Merrick (USA) 72 75 69 71, L Westwood (Eng) 71 73 68 75, R Fowler (USA) 74 70 70 73, K Aphibarnrat (Tha) 69 78 68 72,
288 D Fichardt (RSA) 70 74 75 69, D Ernst (USA) 71 72 73 72,
289 S Gallacher (Sco) 73 73 72 71, J Blixt (Swe) 70 75 74 70, G Bhullar (Ind) 69 71 75 74,
290 R Ishikawa (Jpn) 81 72 68 69, D Popovic (Aus) 77 71 69 73,
291 W Ashun (Chn) 74 75 70 72, D Points (USA) 72 74 70 75,
292 D Howell (Eng) 72 75 73 72,
293 B Seuk-Hyun (Kor) 81 68 69 75,
295 M Jiménez (Esp) 75 76 70 74,
296 R Jacquelin (Fra) 81 70 71 74,
297 G Coetzee (RSA) 75 77 74 71,
299 H Mu (Chn) 76 75 73 75,
303 B Rumford (Aus) 75 77 79 72,
323 H Ming-Jie (Chn) 83 77 80 83,
** H Matsuyama (Jpn) 71 WD 0 0,