SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Dustin Johnson will be looking to ride his booming drive to victory when he kicks off his 2017-18 season in a stellar field at the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament this weekend.
The world number one will face stiff competition when he chases his third World Golf Championship title of the year, however, with five of the top 10 in the world teeing off at the Sheshan International course on Thursday.
Johnson, who won the WGC-Mexico and WGC-Dell Match Play earlier this year, said he would be targeting the par-fives in his bid to reclaim the trophy he won four years ago.
“I like the golf course,” Johnson told European Tour website.
“I think it fits my game pretty well. You’ve got to do everything well. You can make a lot of birdies here if you’re driving it well and, for me, playing the par-fives well (is key).”
Johnson has not played since a brilliant performance as part of a winning American team at the Presidents Cup more than three weeks ago.
He skipped the first two events of the PGA Tour’s Asian swing in Malaysia and South Korea, allowing some of his compatriots to steal the limelight.
The sizzling hot Justin Thomas claimed his third victory in seven starts when he beat Australian Marc Leishman in a playoff at the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges on Sunday.
World number three Thomas is skipping this week, however, as is British Open champion and world number two Jordan Spieth.
There will be plenty of star power on display, though, including Spain’s Jon Rahm and Japanese defending champion Hideki Matsuyama.
“This tournament was the catalyst for the best twelve months of my career so far and to defend my title would really cap it all off,” Matsuyama said in Shanghai this week.
“But the WGC-HSBC Champions field just seems to get better and better so I know I’ve got a battle on my hands.”
Others in the field include Australian former world number ones Jason Day and Adam Scott, as well as American veteran Phil Mickelson, the winner at Sheshan in 2007 and 2009.
The HSBC Champions is the only WGC event played outside North America and Johnson hopes the long trip across the Pacific will be worthwhile as he tries to recapture his best form.
He was unstoppable early this year and a huge favorite heading into the first major at the Masters only for a fall down some stairs on the eve of the tournament to end his bid for a green jacket.
He has not played badly since, but has not quite reproduced his pre-injury form. His 4-0-1 record at the Presidents Cup suggests he is close and he made it clear he would have his game face on this week.
“Even though it’s the off-season it’s the beginning of next year,” he said. “I‘m not traveling all the way to China just to have a good time. I‘m coming here to play golf.”
Writing by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Nick Mulvenney