DUSTIN JOHNSON showed megastar potential at the HSBC Champions as he wrapped up "the biggest win of my career so far" – yet Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy were the toast of the European Tour in Shanghai.
McDowell breathed life back into the Race to Dubai as he surged to within €146,865 of Henrik Stenson at the top of the money list courtesy of a fighting third-place finish behind Johnson and defiant defending champion Ian Poulter on a thrilling final day at Sheshan International.
Portrush man McDowell, €347,021 the richer as he flew home to wife Kristin in Orlando, skips the Turkish Open to be fresh for the season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai next week, where no doubt he'll give Stenson a good run for his money. Stenson, bidding to become the first man to win the FedEx Cup and Europe's Race to Dubai in the same year, banked 'just' €49,161 in a three-way tie for 31st yesterday.
For the second Sunday in succession, the Swede applied a gloss finish to an uncomfortable week with a final-round 65. Stenson must shake off a niggling wrist injury and win this week to slam the door on G-Mac in the European title race, while English aces Justin Rose (now third in the European money list) and Poulter (fourth), and Tiger Woods are among those gunning for him in Turkey.
European Tour officials certainly will breathe a sigh of relief that poster boy and defending champion McIlroy has finally booked his place in Dubai, courtesy of a share of sixth with Canada's Graham DeLaet in Shanghai.
The Holywood native, whose image has been plastered on billboards all over Dubai advertising the season finale, banished any worries about making the 60-man field as a €167,366 cheque propelled him to 38th in the money list.
For only the second time in 22 tournaments in 2013, McIlroy managed to post back-to-back rounds in the 60s as he followed up Saturday's 67 with a bogey-free 69. "It was a good week, another step in the right direction," said the 24-year-old, adding: "I just didn't take advantage of the par-fives or some of the shorter par-fours. Though it's one of my only bogey-free rounds of the year, it didn't contain enough birdies."
Johnson was magnificent as he recovered from an unsettling double-bogey finish on Saturday and a stuttering start yesterday to clinch his first World Golf Championship and eighth PGA Tour victory with a blistering barrage down the stretch. The powerful American (29) led Poulter by three and McDowell by four overnight and that's exactly how it finished after these three playing companions posted storied 66s.
Yet the two Europeans gave Johnson a good working-over after he bogeyed the first hole and appeared unable to hole a putt of any consequence on the next six. McDowell opened brilliantly with a hat-trick of birdies, while Poulter picked up shots at one and two before edging clear with another at five.
There truly was a whiff of Medinah in the air as G-Mac joined his Ryder Cup colleagues in the lead with a fourth birdie at seven.
However, Johnson kept his cool until a brace of birdies at eight and nine put him back in a tie for the lead with Poulter, who also birdied eight, one ahead of McDowell. Peacock Poulter strutted clear once again as he and McDowell both holed handsome putts for two at 12, where Johnson, inside both of them off the tee, pointedly missed.
Yet Johnson rebounded with birdies at 13 and 14. His 20-foot putt at the latter was crucial after McDowell sank a monster 50-footer for a truly astonishing birdie four, having hit his approach into an impossible lie in bottomless rough bordering a greenside bunker. Poulter also made birdie at this par-five but bogey at 15 dropped him into a tie for second on 20-under with McDowell, one off the pace.
Johnson then delivered a brilliant knockout blow with his pitch-in eagle from short of the green at 16, then picked up his fifth shot in five holes with another cracking two at the 212-yard 17th.
McDowell felt "a pang of disappointment" but added: "Generally, I'm very proud of the way I played this week, especially from tee to green.
"On the greens, there was room for improvement but I hit the ball really well on the weekend," added G-Mac, who posted four rounds in the 60s, including Saturday's 64.
McDowell was bogey-free yesterday – like Sergio Garcia. The Spaniard had nine birdies in the closing 63 which lifted him into fourth.