Johnson in the groove quickly in bid for WGC hat-trick

Britain's Matthew Fitzpatrick tees off during the 2017 WGC-HSBC Champions golf tournament at the Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

A new putter helped world No 1 Dustin Johnson produce a stunning burst of scoring to claim the halfway lead in the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai.

Johnson birdied six of the last seven holes at Sheshan International in a brilliant, bogey-free 63 to reach 13 under par, a shot ahead of first-round leader Brooks Koepka.

Koepka also kept a bogey off his card as he added a 68 to his opening 64, leaving the US Open champion three clear of Olympic gold medallist Justin Rose and Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat.

A victory for Johnson on Sunday would make him the first player to win three World Golf Championship events in the same year after he won the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and WGC-Mexico Championship on back-to-back starts in March.

“Obviously I played very well,” said Johnson after covering the back nine in 29. “But I actually got a putter like about 20 minutes before I teed off. It’s a (TaylorMade) Spider, so it’s one that I’ve used before.

“I wasn’t really pleased with the one I played with (on Thursday), so the guys here in China made me one. I got it right before I walked to the tee. I hit a few putts on the practice green with it and I was like, ‘Oh, this will work pretty well’.

“I went out and holed a lot of putts, so I kind of like it.”

Johnson also clearly likes the course at Sheshan International, where his 24-under-par winning total in 2013 included a second round of 63.

“It suits my eye very well,” added the 33-year-old. “For me, if I drive it good out here, I feel like I can make a lot of birdies.”

Johnson and Koepka are good friends and neighbours in Florida, although most of their time together is spent relaxing or in the gym, rather than on the course.

“It will be fun, nice to play with him,” said Koepka. “We actually talked about it on Saturday when we played at home. I don’t think we’ve ever actually been in contention together.”

Rose was disappointed to bogey the par-five 18th in his 68, but was pleased with his overall performance as he continues to struggle with a shoulder problem. “It’s nothing major, just a tiny bit of tendonitis,” the world No 13 said. “It’s not impeding my golf.

“It’s my first tournament in a month or so, so to back up a good start with another good round is encouraging.”

Sheffield’s Matt Fitzpatrick is the second highest Englishman on the leaderboard after adding a 69 to his opening 68, to sit on seven under par, six off the lead. Three birdies in a row from the 14th headlined his round.

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