SHANGHAI — On 16 holes, Dustin Johnson looked like the player who has won every year since turning pro and has played on two U.S. Ryder Cup teams.
Starting the third round of the HSBC Champions with a five-shot lead, he blasted his way to 10 birdies and was running away from the field.
But all those birdies were offset by two double bogeys, the last one cutting his lead in half going into today's final round of this World Golf Championships event. About the only thing that cheered him up Saturday was his 6-under 66 and a three-shot lead over Ian Poulter (63) at 18-under 198.
"It's a good score," Johnson said. "I'm definitely happy with what I shot. I'm just not happy with the way I finished. Making two doubles, there's no excuse for that, especially the way I'm playing right now."
Johnson ran off five straight birdies to close out a 30 on the front nine of Sheshan International and a five-shot lead over Poulter. For his next trick, he hit wedge four times from inside 100 yards before he could get the ball on the green at the 10th hole. He had to make a 12-foot putt for double bogey.
He followed with a run of four straight birdies, hitting a 5-iron into 15 feet for a two-putt birdie on the par-5 14th and a 3-iron to the front of the 16th green for a chip-and-putt birdie that stretched his lead to six shots.
On 18, Johnson's tee shot sailed to the right and into the middle of the lake. It appeared that he could have dropped farther up the fairway, but playing partners Boo Weekley and Bubba Watson didn't offer much help as to where (or if) the shot crossed land before it entered the hazard. Not wanting to take any chances, Johnson opted to return to the tee. He ripped another drive down the edge of the water, this time with his draw to reach the fairway.
But his approach went left near the lip of a bunker, and he did well to blast out to 15 feet and take two putts for 7.
Poulter, who shot 30 on the front nine without making birdie on either of the par 5s, closed with birdie on the par-5 18th. He thought that was a good day of work, even though he wasn't making up ground on Johnson.
"This golf course gives up a lot of birdies, and (Johnson is) a good player," Poulter said. "And in this form, he's going to make a lot of birdies. I just need to do my thing (today) and make a lot more than what he does. I'm going to have to see what happens coming down the stretch."
Johnson was in the final group today with Poulter and Graeme McDowell (64), who was four shots behind.
Rory McIlroy birdied three of his last five holes for 67 and was in a group six shots behind with Graham DeLaet (65) and U.S. Open champion Justin Rose (65).
McDowell has a lot at stake today. At No. 2 on the European Tour money list, he could move past Henrik Stenson in the Race to Dubai if he were to finish alone in second.
Champions: Fred Couples extended his lead to five strokes after the third round of the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship, shooting 3-under 68 to move to 15-under 198 in San Francisco. Mark O'Meara (67) was second. Defending champion Tom Lehman had the best round of the day, 65, to join Bart Bryant (70) and Peter Senior (72) at 9 under. Points leader Kenny Perry (67) was in a group of three at 7 under.