Hideki Matsuyama is in line to win his first WGC title and third PGA Tour victory after jumping into the lead in the WGC–HSBC Champions tournament in China. Defending champion Russell Knox is part of a quality pack chasing him hard.
Matsuyama takes a three-shot lead into the third round at 13 under after posting a 7-under 65 to go with his opening 66. Knox is tied for second with Bill Haas at 10 under.
Daniel Berger, England’s Richard Bland and Francesco Molinari of Italy share fourth place at 8 under. Rory McIlroy sits in a four-way tie for seventh a stroke further behind after a 66.
Matsuyama didn’t start out Friday expecting an easy ride around Sheshan International. He thought he’d be lucky to break 70.
“It was starting to get windy during the warm up this morning and I thought maybe a couple under par would be a good score,” Matsuyama said. “So I’m really happy with how it ended up today.
“It was windy and cold and the ball was hard to control. It was tough out there, but I hit some good second shots and made some putts, and that’s what made it a good round.
“I’ve played here before and haven’t done well at all, so this is a nice surprise for me. I’m not sure what has made the difference. Maybe it’s my attitude – I’m having fun and enjoying myself.”
Knox returned a 4-under 68, a score that could have been a bit better had he been a bit sharper over the last few holes.
“I had a couple of chances there at the end, which I would have loved to have made,” said the two-time PGA Tour winner. “Every shot was very difficult toward the end when it started raining, so I’m thrilled with four under.
“It was a little cold, but I’m built for this. As much as I would say I don’t enjoy playing in this weather, I’m good at it. I hope it’s like this at the weekend.”
Haas is looking for his first victory since the Humana Challenge. He went round the Sheshan International course, located in Shanghai, China, in 67 with just one dropped shot: a bogey at the par-4 13th.
McIlroy shook off the rust of not playing since the Ryder Cup to shoot 66.
“I feel like I actually hit the ball pretty similarly the first two days, but I just holed a few more putts today and was able to take advantage of some of the good drives I was hitting,” he said. “A 66 in these conditions is pretty good out there, and it looks like from the way the leaderboard is, I’m going to need a couple more scores like that to have any chance.”
McIlroy’s European Tour status matches his Official World Golf Ranking. He’s currently third on both lists, with his attention focused firmly on the European Tour’s Race to Dubai. The four-time major winner trails European No. 1 Danny Willett by over one million points. He has two and a half tournaments left to overhaul the Masters Champion and finish the season as European No. 1 for the fourth time, and third time in the last four years.
“My game feels really good, it really does,” McIlroy said. “Hopefully I can have a good weekend here. There’s still a lot to play for this year and I will try to really give myself a chance to win another Race to Dubai.”