MEXICO CITY -- Dustin Johnson leads at the halfway point of the WGC-Mexico Championship, but he's got a big group of golf stars chasing him that includes Rory McIlroy, Matt Kuchar, Sergio Garcia, Tommy Fleetwood ... and Tiger Woods. That is the point of the World Golf Championships, which bring together the best of the best, with the hopes of offering up a compelling weekend leaderboard. So far, we have one. Here's a closer look:
The DJ Factor
He won the tournament when it was first played at Club de Golf Chapultepec in 2017. Last year, he finished seventh. And now Johnson is in position to win again. Despite the tight confines and short-playing characteristics that come with being at altitude, he makes it look easy here.
Johnson doesn't mind bombing his driver, and gets the benefit of some very short approach shots. For two rounds, he is second in strokes gained tee to green and fourth in strokes gained off the tee.
On Friday, Johnson hit 17 greens and putted for birdie on every hole, which is tough to beat. He stands at 131, 11 under par through 36 holes.
"I just enjoy playing this kind of golf,'' Johnson said. "It makes you focus. You got to think. And you're doing a lot of calculations with the numbers and trying to figure out how far the ball is going to actually go. So I enjoy it. It does set up well for me.''
Ranked third in the world, Johnson is one of just four players -- Phil Mickelson, Justin Thomas and Tyrrell Hatton are the others -- to finish in the top 10 in the two years the tournament has been played here.
And a victory would help him reach a milestone. It would be the 20th of his PGA Tour career, a mark not achieved since Davis Love III won his 20th in 2008. Doing so would give Johnson lifetime status on the PGA Tour.
Rory tries to break through
It's been nearly a year since McIlroy's most recent victory, at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He's positioned himself nicely in Mexico after scores of 63-70. McIlroy started fast Friday with birdies on three of his first four holes, but was derailed by a four-putt from 15 feet at the ninth that led to a double-bogey. He added just one birdie the rest of the way.
McIlroy, 29, has three top-five finishes in three starts this year on the PGA Tour, including a tie for fourth at the Genesis Open that included a bogey on Sunday's final hole.
"I love where my attitude's at,'' McIlroy said. "My attitude on the golf course is fantastic and my putting is good. If I'm excited about anything with my game, it's my putting and my attitude have probably been the best they've been in a long time.''
Despite taking 32 putts, McIlroy still ranks 20th for the tournament in strokes gained putting. He's No. 1 in strokes gained off the tee and tee to green.
The Apology Brothers
Both Kuchar and Garcia could stand to change their own storylines after highly publicized controversies in recent weeks.
First it was Garcia, who damaged several greens in frustration at the Saudi International tournament, leading to a disqualification, sterns rebukes from fellow players and an apology leading into last weekend's Genesis Open.
Garcia's best friend had to then be Kuchar, who stole the headlines from him at the Genesis Open with the continuing story of what was deemed to be a low payment to his fill-in caddie when he won a tournament near Cancun in November. That wasn't resolved until Friday, when Kuchar decided to make good and also apologize.
Now both are in contention. They came very close to being in the same group Saturday. Kuchar trails Johnson by two; Garcia is four back.
"Last week was hard,'' Kuchar said. "It was actually great coming here, having so much support from the local crowd. I had so many guys in the practice rounds come up and say, 'Congratulations on the win at Mayakoba, I hope you win again here in Mexico City.' It was nice to have fans still supporting me.''
What to make of Tiger
Woods' decision to play the WGC-Mexico Championship over his hometown Honda Classic next week has been the subject of much conjecture. So far, so good. After a lethargic opening-round 71, Woods looked much better Friday, shooting a 66 that moved him to a tie for eighth.
Whether he can give himself a Sunday chance at victory will be part of the Saturday storyline. But don't expect him to be overly aggressive, as his statistics continue to show. He ranks 69th in strokes gained off the tee.
"Just be patient with it around this golf course,'' Woods said. "Yeah, you can shoot the odd, 64, 65, 63 around this golf course, but you can also shoot something mid-to-high 70s very quickly. It just doesn't take much. Just takes a couple bad drives here and there, hit it in these trees and can't get out of them, get in the wrong spot. You're seeing a very high extreme between the low rounds and the high rounds.''
Even without a win, a top-10 finish here would validate the decision to make the trip. Last year, Woods finished 12th at the Honda Classic at a course that does not suit him. To better that finish at a place that will earn him more FedEx Cup points as well as World Ranking points will go a long way later in the year when those things are more impactful.