John­son’s shoots 67, holds one-shot lead

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Doug Fer­gu­son

AT­LANTA >> Dustin John­son is play­ing bet­ter than any­one in the world, and Kevin Chap­pell can’t wait to watch him at the Tour Cham­pi­onship.

Even if that means hav­ing to beat him.

John­son pow­ered his way down the fair­ways and oc­ca­sion­ally out of the bru­tal rough at East Lake on Fri­day for a 3-un­der 67, giv­ing him a one-shot lead over Chap­pell and mov­ing him one round closer to the $10 mil­lion FedEx Cup prize.

The U.S. Open cham­pion is on a dif­fer­ent level at the mo­ment.

Even on a de­mand­ing test like East Lake this year — only 10 play­ers re­main un­der par — John­son is hit­ting his driver long and straight. His wedge game has gone from a weak­ness to a strength. A new put­ter he put in play two weeks ago when he won the BMW Cham­pi­onship is giv­ing him a bet­ter feel for align­ment.

Small won­der that this was his sev­enth straight round at 68 or bet­ter dur­ing the FedEx Cup play­offs.

“The game is never easy. I wish it was,” John­son said. “Ob­vi­ously, I’m play­ing good right now. I’ve got a lot of con­fi­dence in my game. Ev­ery week, I feel like I bring the same game, which is nice. But I put in a lot of work to get to where I am.”

John­son was at 7-un­der 203.

Chap­pell, one of two play­ers at the Tour Cham­pi­onship who has yet to win on the PGA Tour, was just as solid, even if it doesn’t look as spec­tac­u­lar. He has made only one bo­gey in 36 holes, quite a feat on a course where the Ber­muda rough is so pun­ish­ing that balls sink to the ground and some­times can’t be seen from a foot away.

He shot a 68 and will be in the fi­nal group of a play­off event for the sec­ond time this year.

Kevin Kis­ner (70) and Hideki Mat­suyama (71) were four shots be­hind, while Rory McIl­roy over­came another rough start on the front nine to post a 70. He was in the group five shots be­hind, which isn’t much of a deficit at the half­way point ex­cept for John­son be­ing the one they have to chase.

If noth­ing else, John­son all but elim­i­nated nearly ev­ery­one not among the top five seeds vy­ing for the FedEx Cup. McIl­roy is No. 6 and still has a chance, though he would have to win the Tour Cham­pi­onship and John­son would have to fin­ish third.

“I need to win, and I just need some­one to play as good as Dustin this week,” McIl­roy said.

Ja­son Day is out of the pic­ture. The world’s No. 1 player with­drew in the mid­dle of a round at the sec­ond straight tour­na­ment, cit­ing the same nag­ging back is­sues that he hopes will be cured by rest.

By Day with­draw­ing, John­son won the points­based PGA player of the year award and is likely to win the player vote as PGA Tour player of the year be­cause of his three vic­to­ries, with per­haps another to fol­low.

But there is still work ahead of him, and that starts with Chap­pell.

Chap­pell has been a run­ner-up three times this sea­son and keeps run­ning into the wrong guys — Kis­ner at Sea Is­land, Day at Bay Hill and The Play­ers Cham­pi­onship. He also was in the mix at the TPC Bos­ton un­til McIl­roy pulled away.

JOHN BAZE­MORE — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Dustin John­son watches his tee shot on the sec­ond hole dur­ing the sec­ond round at the Tour Cham­pi­onship at East Lake Golf Club in At­lanta on Fri­day.

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