Dustin Them Off
The South course at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio is really a U.S. Open venue in disguise. It was the host venue for this week’s World Golf Championship-Bridgestone Invitational.
The WGC events (there are 4 every year with the others being the Cadillac, Match Play and HSBC Championships) typically draw the strongest fields in golf, but this week there were a great many European Tour players missing because of a scheduling conflict. The Rio Olympics caused Tours to have to change dates for some tournaments and the WGC-Bridgestone was moved forward to this week which meant it was now on the same dates for the European Tour’s, Open de France.
In a defensive stance, European Tour Commissioner, Kevin Pelley, announced that the European Tour players would not be earning Ryder Cup points (normally they do) if they chose to play the Bridgestone over the Open de France. Players missing from Firestone included Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer, and Lee Westwood.
Firestone has hosted over 70 professional events including 3 Majors (the PGA Championship in 1960, 1966 and 1975) in its 87-year history.
The co-leader after three rounds was world #1, Jason Day, who stood at 5-under par after rounds of 69, 67 and 69 on the demanding par-70 layout. The only other player in the limited field of 63 to have broken par all 3 days was American Scott Piercy, who was tied with Day at 5-under.
World #2, Jordan Spieth had moved into contention on Saturday and was at 3-under before being undone with a disastrous triple-bogie 8, on the par-5 16th hole. The South courses’ iconic 16th is the longest hole on the PGA Tour and was christened, “the Monster” by Arnold Palmer who made a matching 8 during the 1960 PGA Championship.
Three shots behind Day and Piercy was newly minted U.S. Open champion Johnson whose 4-under par Saturday was the biggest move on moving day. With his prodigious length and accuracy off the tee, the 31-year old Johnson’s game is tailor made for courses like Oakmont and Firestone.
Midway through Sunday’s back-9, Day held a one-shot advantage over Johnson before missing a short putt for par on the 15th hole. An ensuing double-bogie 7 on the 16th hole would end Day’s challenge and be one of the few times that the brilliant Australian has been mortal in the last 12 months.
Johnson’s closing 66 and a 4-day total of 6-under par left him a one-shot winner over Piercy replicating their finish in the U.S. Open. Day fell to a tie for 3rd with Spieth, Matt Kuchar and Kevin Chappell at 3-under.
Johnson supplants Spieth at #2 in the Rolex world rankings and wins for the 10th time in his PGA Tour career. The Bridgestone is his third career WGC victory tying him for the second-most with Geoff Ogilvy on the second most important quartet of tournaments each year (Tiger Woods has won 18 times).