SHANGHAI (AP) – Matt Fitzpatrick turned a fluffed shot into an unlikely par, closed with two straight birdies for a 5-under 67 and took a one-shot lead over Rory McIlroy going into the weekend of the HSBC Champions.
Fitzpatrick had a nasty lie in the rough just behind the 16th green and tried to stab it with the putter, only for the ball to pop straight up and roll out some 35 feet away. He holed that for a par to keep a clean card Friday.
He was at 11-under 133, leading a pack so diverse that the top eight players were from eight countries.
McIlroy had his own problems on the 16th, having to hit three shots when the first one sailed into the trees. He scraped out a bogey from that mess and finished with a 5-iron to 3 feet at the 18th for eagle and a 67.
Defending champion Xander Schauffele, still struggling with remnants of the flu, rallied for a 69 and was two shots behind along with Adam Scott (69) and Sungjae Im (69).
Li Haotong of China lost ground with a 72, but he remained in the mix at three shots behind.
“It’s a big key to hitting fairways around here, and if you can keep doing it, you’ll give yourself more chances,” said Fitzpatrick, who has dropped only one shot through 36 holes at Sheshan International, which could only be attacked from the short grass.
Fitzpatrick hooked his tee shot on the short 16th and did well to hit a lob wedge to the back of the green, just into the thick round. He figured his best option was to jab it with the putter to get it rolling toward the cup.
“The putter had gone through and the ball was still there,” he said.
It rolled forward enough to get on the green and take a hard turn to the right, but the Englishman poured that in for par, hit 5-iron to 15 feet on the tough par-3 17th, and got up-and-down with a wedge from the 18th fairway for his last birdie.
McIlroy wasn’t so fortunate.
He went with 3-wood off the tee, hoping to leave it around the green for an easy birdie. But he let the club fall from his hands when he made contact and watched it sail so far left that he hit a provisional – a 6-iron this time – for a lost ball.
And then he found it and realized he would have to take a penalty for an unplayable lie, and it would be easier to get back on the fairway by hitting another tee shot instead of trying to punch it out of the woods.
“I tried to hit the same shot as yesterday, but the wind was more off the left,” McIlroy said. “I knew I had to caress one a little bit, and I caressed it dead left. Made a good 5.”
After his third tee shot, he hit lob wedge to 8 feet and made he bogey putt. Two holes later, he caught a 5-iron a little thin and it worked out perfectly.
McIlroy still was in prime position to go for his fourth win of the year, and his second World Golf Championships title.
But it was bunched at the top.
Schauffele is moderately shocked to be in the mix considering how badly he has felt this week, often turning to cough into the crook of his elbow after hitting shots. He couldn’t find the fairway and limited the damage with his short game on the front nine, then cleaned it up on the back nine with three birdies.
No one has won back-to-back in the HSBC Champions since it became a World Golf Championship in 2009, and Schauffele might be the best bet extending an American streak of seven victories in this series.
“I was 1 over on the front nine and was not looking like a real golfer – or at least a professional golfer – on that front stretch,” Schauffele said. “Happy that my feet got under me on the back nine, and just sort of had a little bit of a better time.”
Im, looking more and more like a pick for the Presidents Cup next week, was around the lead all day until a bogey from the bunker on the 17th and failing to make birdie on the 18th. Scott birdied three straight holes in the middle of his back nine to stay in the hunt.
Li and Victor Perez of France were at 8-under 136, followed by Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa, who had a 69.
Phil Mickelson had a 69 and was seven shots behind.
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