(Reuters) – Dustin Johnson offered a reminder that he is still the world number one as he moved within one stroke of second-round leaders Marc Leishman and Brian Harman at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii on Friday.
Johnson recovered from a slow start to run up seven birdies for a five-under-par 68 on the Kapalua Plantation course on the island of Maui.
He was deprived of a share of the lead only when Leishman and Harman both birdied the 663-yard, par-five 18th which plunges down the West Maui mountains.
Leishman (69) and Harman (68) posted 10-under 136. They also thrived in conditions which started with a strong trade wind blowing down the mountain, before abating late in the day.
“I got off to a rough start, bogeyed three and four from the middle of the fairway,” said 2013 champion Johnson, who has never shot over par on the course.
“I was hitting some good shots, just didn’t score very well.
“(Birdies at the sixth, eighth and ninth holes) got me back in the rhythm and played a really solid back nine.”
Johnson has not made many headlines since a fall on tournament eve knocked him out of the Masters last April, a tournament he would have started as hot favorite coming off three consecutive victories.
But he has done enough to stay atop the world rankings for close to an year.
Co-leader Leishman is coming off a two-win season, and the easy-going 34-year-old has his eye on even bigger and better things.
“It was tough (playing in the wind), really happy with four birdies, no bogeys,” he said.
“You play to win. Having a year like I had last year, confidence is high. I feel like when I’m in this position I need to finish it off… but a lot of golf to play.”
The diminutive Harman used an unlikely birdie at the par-five 15th to springboard into a share of the lead.
After fluffing his third shot, an uphill pitch that failed to reach the green and rolled back nearly to his feet, he then made amends by pitching in his next shot from 80 feet.
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; editing by Sudipto Ganguly)