SHANGHAI, China – Graeme McDowell is halfway to his first World Golf Championship title after a second consecutive 5-under 67 at the HSBC Champions at Sheshan International Golf Club.
Unlike in Thursday’s first round – when the Northern Irishman was firing on all cylinders – McDowell used more guile than ballstriking Friday to take a three-shot lead over fellow Ryder Cupper and Englishman Ian Poulter.
“I wasn’t half as clinical today as I was yesterday, I didn’t drive the ball well,” McDowell said after recording five birdies and no bogeys. “My iron play is not where I want it to be, but I’m hanging tough.”
McDowell knows he needs to make a few tweaks to his games, but only tweaks because his game is generally in good working order. His putter has been red-hot over the first two days in Shanghai.
One of the advantages McDowell will take into the weekend is his past success on this golf course. In three appearances at Sheshan International Golf Club, the Northern Irishman twice finished third – in 2011 and 2013. In 14 rounds here, McDowell’s stroke average is 68.64, and 12 rounds of those rounds were under par.
McDowell isn’t completely sure why he has thrived at Sheshan International, but knows the course fits his eye and he likes putting on the slippery greens, which has been the key to his three-shot lead.
“This golf course doesn’t require you to move it 350 (yards) to make a score,” McDowell said. “I think it’s the fact I can be patient and know there’s scoring opportunities around the corner.”
Poulter won this event two years ago, but that was when it was hosted at Mission Hills. The Englishman has not seen the winner’s circle since, instead watching his world ranking plummet to its lowest in more than five years because of nagging injuries in the 2014 season.
With new equipment in the bag after a recent switch from Cobra to Titleist, Poulter seems reborn.
“Probably the best I’ve played all year, which is very exciting,” Poulter said. “We’ve got 36 holes to go. You’ve got 36 potential birdies, so three shots is pretty close. I played with Graeme in the last round last year, and he likes this golf course and played well, and I’ve had success around here, as well. So if you’re within six shots, then you’ve got a great chance on Sunday.”
McDowell’s game plan for the weekend is also to keep trying to make birdies.
“I think if I can get it to 14, 15 under, that should take care of it, but I’ve just got to go and try to execute my game plan, try to keep my head down,” McDowell said. “I’m playing with two guys (Bubba Watson and Poulter) that are going to be snapping at my heels tomorrow. I can’t think about making mistakes, I just go to think about executing game plans and making birdies and we see where we go.”