As Dustin Johnson walked off Firestone South on Sunday, he was FaceTiming with his fiancee, Paulina Gretzky, and was caught on camera saying, “I found him.” He was referring to Tatum, their young son who along with the nanny had unknown whereabouts for a bit.
Johnson’s been finding everything recently. He recently found the right mindset and state after stepping away from the game. Two weeks ago he found his first major championship at the U.S. Open. And on Sunday, he found his first Bridgestone Invitational championship, firing a 4-under 66 for the second straight day to finish at 6-under for the tournament and overtake Scott Piercy (5-under overall), world No. 1 Jason Day (3-under) and the field.
“I feel like if I'm hitting it in the fairway, then I'm going to be very tough to beat,” Johnson said. “I feel like I'm wedging it well, and out here if you get it in the fairway, you get a lot of wedges in your hands. … The last couple weeks my putter, I'm making the putts that I'm supposed to make. That's the big difference in me finishing a lot of top-5s that I've had to this year to winning a few.”
Johnson began the final round three strokes off the pace set by Day and Piercy and was five strokes back after Day eagled the par-5 2nd hole. He remained three back as he walked up to the tee on No. 13 and then rattled in back-to-back birdies as the leaders struggled to eventually finish one stroke ahead of Piercy and at least three strokes ahead of everyone else.
“I felt like I had a chance when I birdied 13 and 14,” he said. “I knew then I've probably got a good chance. I needed to finish with some good scores. But I knew I had a chance then.”
Johnson, still trailing for nearly the entire day, made his final move on the 71st hole of the tournament just as Day ran into trouble on the 667-yard, par-5 16th.
Day bogeyed No. 15 and approached Firestone South’s signature hole at 6-under, tied with Johnson. But his tee shot went errantly left and under a tree, setting up a challenging recovery to save par and retain a share of the lead.
Moments later, Johnson continued his hot hand with the putter and drained a 16-foot birdie on No. 17 to move to 7-under and take his first lead of the tournament just as Day was crouched under.
After hearing the roar from the crowd one hole over, Day’s second shot—an attempt to get it back onto the fairway and save par—careened across the fairway and into the gallery on the right side. Then came the decisive blow. Day attempted to rip his third shot up the neck of the fairway that wraps around the pond in front of the 16th green. He nearly pulled it off but didn’t get enough of it and watched his ball slowly roll down the ridge and into the water.
“I hit a good shot, I just didn't hit it hard enough,” Day said. “[There was] really kind of one hole that derailed me, which was 16. … I thought I had the right play. … Sometimes you take those risks and it doesn't pay off.”
Barring a miracle, his chances of overtaking Johnson sank to the bottom of the pond with it. Day could only double-bogey the 16th from there, falling two strokes after Johnson bogeyed No. 18. Still with a chance but needing to finish his round with two birdies, he also bogeyed No. 18 to finish 3-under for the tournament and in a tie for third with Jordan Spieth, Matt Kuchar and Kevin Chappell.
Johnson’s bogey on the 18th didn’t matter. Piercy made par at No. 16 but it came after he had bogeyed three of the previous four holes to drop to 4-under. It’s Piercy’s second second-place finish in a row, including the U.S. Open.
“Even though I didn't have my best stuff today, I still had a chance to win really, or close to,” Piercy said. “You know, I'll definitely learn a little bit from it so I can apply it to next time. … Overall I'm happy about the week. A little disappointed I didn't win, but it's a positive.”
William McGirt, Charl Schwartzel and David Lingmerth finished the tournament in a tie for seventh at 2-under, making only 10 players to leave the Bridgestone Invitational under par.
Jason Day, the world’s No. 1-ranked player who entered the day with a one-stroke lead, was vulnerable during Saturday’s third round of the Bridgestone Invitational.
He repeatedly broke the cardinal sin of Firestone South—don’t miss the fairways off the tee—and spent most of the day scrambling to save par instead of collecting birdie chances. He did it enough to shoot a 1-under-par 69, though, that put him in a tie for the lead with Scott Piercy at 5-under-par for the tournament and set up a tight final round on Sunday.
Through the 16th hole, Day had hit only one fairway and was ranked last in the field in driving accuracy. If there was a time for the field to jump on the world’s top-ranked player, it was Saturday, but Day held his own enough to retain a share of the lead and keep his name atop the leaderboard.
“I think obviously the short game saved me, but mentally I was just trying to grind and grind and grind because I thought if I can somehow get something in and give myself an opportunity for tomorrow, [I’ll have a chance],” Day said. “It’s very easy to just [be] hitting the positions that I hit it today and sit there and go, ‘Well, it’s just not my day or not my week,’ and kind of switch off a little bit. But I didn’t want to allow myself to switch off mentally.”
Piercy fired a 3-under-par 67 to put him in a tie for the lead and in the final grouping with Day. He chipped in for an eagle on the par-5 second hole, birdied Nos. 11 and 17 and sunk a 35-foot putt to save par on No. 14. His lone bogey came on No. 18, which would have given him the out-right lead.
Piercy, who recently finished in a tie for second at the U.S. Open, ranked No. 7 in the field on Saturday by hitting eight fairways. To him, the putt on No. 14 was just as positive of an omen.
“I drove the ball well to start. Everything was just pretty solid today,” he said. “I drove it well, hit my irons well, put it in the right spots and the chip-in on [No. 2] was really nice out of the bunker. The par save at [No. 14] was awesome. I hadn't really made a putt of length this week. Hopefully get the putter working, keep striking it well and have a good chance tomorrow, I think.”
He’ll have to do it playing side-by-side with the world’s top-ranked player. Day and Piercy have been together in the final group before, as they went head-to-head in the final round of the 2015 BMW Championship. Day got the better of Piercy, besting him by one stroke with a 2-under-par.
“[Do I] change anything? No,” Piercy said. “It’s a tough golf course. You’ve got a lot to worry about on the golf course. You don’t need to worry about whoever you’re playing with.”
David Lingmerth entered the third round trailing by a stroke and equaled Day’s 1-under-par 69 to hold that position, now alone in third place and a shot off the lead at 4-under-par.
“You know, Saturday of a big golf tournament, playing with the world No. 1, and I felt comfortable all day,” Lingmerth said after being paired with Day for the third round. “I'm looking forward to tomorrow. I think I played a lot better today really than I did yesterday. … It’s playing pretty tough, and you can't be greedy out there, but I feel like I'm in better control now than I was yesterday, and tomorrow is going to be a lot of fun.”
Brian Stuard, in his first Bridgestone Invitational appearance, shot a 3-under-par 67 to place him alone in fourth at 3-under for the tournament.
U.S. Open champ and world No. 3 Dustin Johnson carded four birdies on the front-9 and had the best round of the day with a 4-under-par 66, placing him at 2-under for the tournament and only three strokes off the lead. Charl Schwartzel (3-under-par 67) and William McGirt (even-par-70) each stand at 2-under for the tournament as well.
Seven players enter the final round within three strokes of the lead, and 11 players are within five strokes, all chasing Day and Piercy. In the last five tournaments in which Day has held at least a share of the 54-hole, he’s gone on to win.
“If you go out and shoot—if you're even-par and you shoot a decent score tomorrow—it just depends how they set it up,” Day said. “Anyone that's kind of even-par, under-par has a good chance. I'm hoping not. I'm hoping I just blow it away. That's the plan, but unfortunately sometimes it doesn't work that way.”
U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson found his putting stroke during the third round of the Bridgestone Invitational and now finds himself within reasonable striking distance of winning back-to-back tournaments.
Johnson started the day 2-over-par for the tournament but fired a Saturday-best 4-under-par 66, putting him at 2-under overall and three strokes back of Jason Day and Scott Piercy entering Sunday’s final round.
Johnson did it all the putter. He sank birdie putts of 11 feet, 14 feet and 45 feet that all came within a stretch of five birdies in eight holes that brought him back into contention. He drained 115 feet worth of putts in the third round, which nearly equaled his combined totals from the first two rounds.
“I mean, you've still got to play really good because the golf course is firm,” Johnson said. “It's tough to get it in the fairways, and then the greens are firm, too, so it's tough to get it close to the flag. Yesterday, I just didn't play good yesterday. It was pretty simple. It was windy. It made it a little tougher, but I played terrible. … I did everything pretty well today. I felt like I was driving it really good, hit a lot of great iron shots and rolled the putter pretty nicely, too. It was just an all-around good day.”
Johnson, currently the No. 3-ranked player in the world, has a chance to climb into the No. 2 spot should he win the Bridgestone Invitational and No. 2-ranked Jordan Spieth finishes fifth or worse. Spieth enters the final round at even-par for the tournament and in a tie for 10th.
Through six holes on Sunday, Charl Schwartzel was 2-over-par for the day and 3-over for the tournament, well out of contention, with his prospects of a positive finish only worsening.
Then, a recovery. Schwartzel birdied three holes in a four-hole stretch and shot a 31 on the back-9, tied for the best nine-hole score in the tournament. He now sits 2-under-par for the tournament, tied with Johnson.
“Around here, you’re going to make two bogeys pretty much all the time. It’s hard not to,” Schwartzel said. “I thought maybe those were my two that came early. Just figured that I gotta keep enough greens, hit some fairways. If you can make a couple of birdies, get to level par or just under, that would be a good result.”
Schwartzel began firing his approach shots closer to the pin, the kind of navigating on Firestone South that made Tiger Woods so successful. From the seventh hole on, he hit 11 of 12 greens in regulation.
“I think this golf course, it awards [precision],” Schwartzel said. “That’s why Tiger has won so many times, a guy that can strike an iron very well. It’s a big benefit.”
He also did it on a course that is difficult to attack without paying a price.
“This golf course is difficult to get really aggressive,” Schwartzel said. “You’ve got to hit every shot as it comes to you. It’s hard to hit fairways and stuff. I just thought I was hitting the ball really good on the back-9 and giving myself good opportunities and then all of a sudden you think you can make a lot of birdies.”
New contest debuts
A new promotion and fan contest sponsored by Tempur-Pedic begins this week at the Bridgestone Invitational and continues at selected tournaments through the Tour Championship Sept. 25.
Every PGA Tour player who leads after 54 holes and goes on to win, commonly called “sleeping on the lead,” will win a TEMPUR-Breeze bed. Fans can enter the weekly Sleeping on the Lead sweepstakes by going to www.TempurPedic.Golf.com. If the 54-hole leader wins the title, a random drawing will select a winner of a TEMPUR-Breeze mattress and foundation. Should he not win, the person whose name is drawn will receive a pair of TEMPUR-Cloud pillows.
Hunter Mahan, the 2010 Bridgestone champion, is serving as the company’s ambassador during the contest.
The Bridgestone Invitational was one of 16 events participating in the PGA Tour Volunteer Challenge sponsored by Myrbetriq. Volunteers encouraged others to go to the tour’s wed site and vote for their favorite, with the contest running from April 18 through Saturday.
The winner was Ashok Kolla of Akron, who collected 508 of over 2,000 votes cast.
Kolla presented a check from Astellas Pharma US, Inc. for $10,000 to Northern Ohio Golf Charities.
More-so than any player trying to navigate Firestone’s South Course, the wind won the day during Friday’s second round of the Bridgestone Invitational.
Following rain showers in the morning, steady, 20-mph winds blew into Akron and in the process swept away much hope of a score in the mid-60s. The winds doubled down on Firestone South’s already-high price for inaccurate tee shots or imprecise approaches.
It turned Firestone South into an 18-hole monster, not just the 667-yard par-5 16th.
“On this course which is already known for being difficult to hit fairways, it makes it even more challenging,” said Jordan Spieth, who shot a 1-over-par 71 and sits at 1-under-par for the tournament, tied for sixth place. “Downwind holes, it's hard to hold it from going through, and then into the wind and crosswind holes, it's hard to land it in the correct side of the fairway. They have enough pitch to throw it off. Then when you're out of position off the tee and you're in the rough, it's just that much harder to hold the greens.”
William McGirt entered Friday with a three-stroke lead but shot a 4-over-par 74 on Friday. The wind kept him guessing all day.
“On a scale of 10? 10,” McGirt said when asked how tough the wind made Friday’s conditions. “Trying to figure out the wind was impossible. I thought I hit a perfect tee shot on 16, got it drawing well inside the bunker, and all of a sudden the wind pushes it hard right, and luckily it kicked over the bunker, but the lay-up shot was a cut and it was well right of the bunker, and somehow the wind started pushing it hard left.”
McGirt tried to explain it and then gave up. Nobody had a real answer for it.
“It was a lot of down off the left with a touch of in off the right—I mean, who knows,” McGirt said. “It was all over the place. It seemed to be a lot more out of the west, but down, in. It was hard to figure out. But even though generally it was out of the west, there was still a lot of east in there at times.”
Players, such as tournament leader Justin Day (4-under-par for the tournament, 1-under-par 69 on Friday), began trying to time their shots with the gusts due to the shifting winds.
“You had to really choose the right gust to hit it on, and it was fluctuating ever so slightly from southwest to northwest, so it was going back and forth,” Day said. “You know, it feels like it's into the wind, but it really wasn't. It's just tough because you're trying to hit fairways here, and some of the fairways are really difficult to hit.”
In a way, players relinquished a portion of their control on the ball. They had no choice.
“Yeah, it was pretty difficult out there. It's very windy,” said Emiliano Grillo, who shot a 1-over-par 71 and is in a tie for third at 2-under-par for the tournament. “The wind was doing whatever he pleased.”
The weather is expected to be a bit calmer for the final two rounds. Perhaps the scoring will return—if the wind will allow it.
William McGirt remains in lead by a stroke over David Lingmerth during the second round of the Bridgestone Invitational on Friday at Firestone Country Club.
McGirt birdied the second hole to go to 7 under but suffered his first bogey of the tournament on No. 9. He followed that with a bogeys on Nos. 13 and 16.
Lingmerth is at 3 under after a bogey on No. 18. World No. 1 Jason Day and Emiliano Grillo also are at 3 under.To read more or comment...
The Larry O’Brien Trophy presented to the NBA champion Cavaliers arrived at Firestone Country Club Friday, complete with gloves bearing the NBA Finals logo for handling.
The trophy has its own itinerary for display at the $9.5 million World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. It will be under constant guard and those posing alongside are not allowed to touch it.
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There have been only four instances of a player winning the Memorial Tournament in suburban Columbus and then the Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, the two Ohio PGA Tour events, in the same year.
William McGirt, winner of this year’s Memorial Tournament, is on his way to becoming the fifth after shooting a 6-under-par 64 to grab a three-stroke lead in the first round of the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club on Thursday.
He’s also well aware of the significance of the four instances in which a player won both Ohio tournaments. They all involve one familiar name.
“Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods and Tiger Woods,” McGirt said. “That would be pretty special company.”
McGirt, a first-time player in the Bridgestone Invitational, had the only bogey-free round of the day, which included three birdies in a four-hole stretch on the front-9. He also holed-out from a bunker on the par-3 15th to save par.
“It was a good, solid day all around,” McGirt said. “Drove it pretty well with the exception of the tee shot on 18 and had a lot of perfect numbers, perfect yardages. Actually felt better with the putter from 35 or 40 feet than I did from six feet. Missed a couple here or there early on that could have been a couple lower, but I had a couple opportunities to make bogey as well.”
McGirt immediately took a liking to Firestone’s South Course when going through his practice rounds, praising it’s straight-frowardness that demands accuracy, not just bombing every drive.
“I fell in love with the place because length is not everything out here,” McGirt said. “You have to drive it in the fairway. You have to drive it in the correct spots in the fairways to be able to attack pins. I love it because you can't stand up there and just hit it as hard as you want, go find it and hack it on the green. It's an old, traditional style golf course, which I absolutely love. … Maybe it's something with Ohio I like.”
McGirt’s three-stroke advantage is the largest first-round lead in the tournament since it became a World Golf Championships event in 1999. But some of golf’s biggest names are lurking near the top of the leaderboard.
World No. 1 Jason Day, Jimmy Walker and Emiliano Grillo all shot 3-under-par 67s to tie for second. World No. 2 Jordan Spieth, World No. 7 Rickie Fowler, Charley Hoffman and Anirban Lahiri carded 2-under-par 68s to tie for fifth.
Spieth entered entered the 15th hole two-over-par and eight strokes off the lead but finished his round with a flurry of four consecutive birdies. Already one of the more dangerous players in the field, Spieth enters Friday’s second round on a tear, shooting a Thursday-best 31 on the back-9.
“I hit two greens of the first 13 holes, two greens in 13 holes means you're probably not going to be under par no matter where you're playing, especially here,” Spieth said. “[I] started hitting some greens and really got that putter hot. I made a couple I maybe didn't expect to make, and I actually made a couple great par saves that kind of started getting my putter hot, and finally they were more birdie instead of par.”
Fowler bogeyed the par-4 1st but responded by birdieing every other hole through No. 8, putting him at three-under-par at the turn. He finished the day with eight pars and a bogey (No. 17) on the back-9.
“After bogeying the first, it was nice to get things going, make a few birdies on the front nine,” Fowler said. “[I] had a nice chip-in at the fourth. It was a nice day. It was tough to hit fairways out there with the firm conditions. It's nice to see this golf course play firm. Being earlier in the year, less rain, and not a whole lot in the forecast right now. It's going to be a fun week.”
For now, some of golf’s biggest names are chasing McGirt, the North Carolina native with one PGA Tour win who’s taken a liking to golf in Ohio.
+ Shane Lowry finished atop the leaderboard after Sunday’s final round of the tournament at 11-under-par for a total of 269. Lowry made several spectacular shots Sunday en route to a 66 on the South Course at Firestone Country Club.
+ Lowry is the eighth player to come from behind in the 17-year history of the Bridgestone and NEC Invitational. Rory McIlroy came from behind to win last year too.
+ Bubba Watson jumped up to second with a 66 of his own, and finished two shots behind Lowry. Jim Furyk and Justin Rose entered the final round tied for first, but both faltered on Sunday and each posted a 72 to finish tied for third and four shots back. Robert Streb carded a 68 Sunday and rounded out the top five at 6-under over four days.
+ Camilo Villegas posted Sunday’s best round with a 65, which helped him finish tied for 25th with five other golfers at even.To read more or comment...
+ Jim Furyk and Justin Rose are atop the leaderboard following three rounds of the tournament at 9-under-par for a total of 201. Rose shot a 7-under 63 to jump up the leaderboard and catch Furyk, who tallied a 69. Shane Lowry is third overall at 7-under.
+ Rose and Steven Bowditch each posted a 63, the best rounds of the day. Bowditch is tied for fourth at 5-under overall with Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson and Bubba Watson.
+ Bernd Wiesberger had the first bogey-free round of the week, carding a 4-under 66. There were no bogey-free rounds through the first two rounds, something that hadn’t happened since the British Open Championship in 2013 at Muirfield. Wiesberger is tied for 26th with six other golfers at 1-over overall. Rose proceeded to post the second bogey-free round of the week.
+ Jordan Spieth, the world’s No. 2 ranked golfer, carded a 2-over-par round of 72 on Day Three, and is tied for 17th at even overall with eight other golfers.To read more or comment...