SHANGHAI (AP) — It only took four holes over two days for Dustin Johnson to lose a six-shot lead in the HSBC Champions. All that mattered was the high-powered kick down the stretch Sunday at Sheshan International that brought him the biggest win of his career.
In what felt like the end of a long year and beginning of a new season, Johnson broke loose from a three-way challenge on the back nine by playing a five-hole stretch in 5-under par. He closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-shot win over Ian Poulter to capture his first World Golf Championship title.
"It's the biggest win I've had in my career so far," he said. "Those guys put a lot of pressure on me. I'm really proud of the way I handled myself."
This one required a little bit of everything.
One shot behind with six holes to play, he smashed his drive over the corner of a dogleg on the 13th hole that left him a short wedge into 5 feet for birdie to catch Poulter. Right when it looked as though he would fall behind again, Johnson holed a 20-foot birdie putt on the next hole.
It was a pitch-in for eagle that effectively won the tournament.
With a one-shot lead playing the par-4 16th, Johnson hit a 3-iron about 25 yards short of the green with a front pin. The pitch was perfect, rolling into the cup like it was a putt. Johnson raised his left hand and pumped his right fist. And when he waved to acknowledge the Chinese fans, they instinctively waved back, as if Johnson were the star attraction in a parade.
That he was, and there were plenty of stars.
For most of the back nine, the top seven players on the leaderboards consisted of Johnson and half of Europe's winning Ryder Cup team from Medinah.
Poulter and Graeme McDowell, who each had a share of the lead at some point, looked capable of winning until Johnson's late heroics. Right behind them were Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer, all firing away with birdies on a soft course but unable to catch up.
Poulter and McDowell each closed with a 66, the same score as Johnson.
McDowell went 64-66 on the weekend without making a bogey and still lost by four. It was the start of that amazing stretch by Johnson that he recalled most clearly.
"He trenches one 350 down the middle and has the hands to that 70-yard shot to the front pin and make the putt," McDowell said. "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. He's just got a great wedge game to go with just an outrageously good driving game."
Johnson set the tournament record at 24-under 264.