August 7, 2017
Hideki Matsuyama was along for the ride four years ago when he watched Tiger Woods tear apart Firestone Country Club on his way to a 61 in the second round, which tied the South course record and sent Woods to a seven-shot victory in the Bridgestone Invitational.
''I just couldn't believe that anyone could shoot 61 on this golf course,'' Matsuyama said.
He sure didn't expect that from himself Sunday, especially after warming up so badly that Matsuyama wasn't sure which the way ball was going. Some four hours later, the 25-year-old Japanese star had a place alongside Woods in the record book.
Matsuyama finished with three straight birdies to cap off a runaway victory with a 9-under 61, giving him his second World Golf Championship in nine month. It was the lowest final round in four decades at venerable Firestone, and it gave Matsuyama a five-shot victory over Zach Johnson.
He finished at 16-under 264 and moved back to the top of the FedEx Cup standings.
Matsuyama found more than just his swing after he left the range. He might have found the game that first elevated him to the elite in golf last fall when he had four victories and two runner-up finishes over six straight tournaments.
And the timing couldn't be better with the PGA Championship four days away, with a Japanese nation clamoring for its first major champion.
''I hope their expectations aren't too high,'' Matsuyama said. ''But my expectations really at the beginning of this week weren't that high, either, and here we are.''
He won for the third time this season, joining Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth for most on the PGA Tour.
''Once he gets going, he just keeps the hammer down and keeps it going,'' Rory McIlroy said. ''It's very impressive. He's played very impressively over the past 18 months with a lot of wins and a lot of good finishes. That's the caliber of player he is. I expect him to be right up there next week, as well.''
Matsuyama, who started the final round two shots behind Thomas Pieters and Zach Johnson, quickly got into the hunt by chipping in from 60 feet for eagle. He took the lead for the first time on No. 6 with a 15-foot birdie, and then he was gone.
Woods shot 61 twice at Firestone. Jose Maria Olazabal in 1990 and Sergio Garcia in 2014 were the other players to do it. Matsuyama knew from his experience playing with Woods in 2013 what it would take. And just like everything else on this day, he made it look easy.
He spun a wedge back to 4 feet on the par-5 16th for birdie. He holed an 8-foot putt on the 17th hole and then closed with another approach and settled 6 feet away. Matsuyama, who began the final round two shots behind Johnson and Thomas Pieters, finished at 15-under 265.
He now has won two World Golf Championships by a combined 12 shots, having captured the HSBC Champions by seven shots in Shanghai last fall.
Johnson, winless since his British Open victory two years ago at St. Andrews, pulled within one shot with a long birdie putt at the 11th, but he could do no better than pars the rest of the way and shot 68.
Pieters was never in the game after missing 4-foot par putts on successive holes to close out the front nine. He closed with a 71.
The only other player with a chance was Charley Hoffman, who also was one shot behind on the back nine. Hoffman was three shots behind on the par-5 16th hole when his caddie suggested laying up because there was no place to get it close by going for the green 282 yards away.
''I'm trying to win a tournament,'' Hoffman said. ''I'm tired of finishing second.''
He ripped a 3-wood onto the green and over the back into light rough, chipped weakly to 15 feet and made par anyway. He wound up with a 66 to finish third, though it was a big step in trying to make his first Presidents Cup team.
Matsuyama's final birdie broke by one shot the lowest final round by a winner at Firestone. Fulton Allem shot 62 when he won the old World Series of Golf in 1993.
McIlroy got within one shot of the lead on the front nine with three birdies in six holes until his momentum stalled with a few missed putts. He stumbled on the back nine and shot 69, leaving him in a tie for fifth with Russell Knox, Paul Casey and Adam Hadwin.
Spieth closed with a 68 and tied for 13th in his last tournament before he goes for the career Grand Slam in the PGA Championship. After the Bridgestone Invitational, add one more player - Matsuyama - to the list of major obstacles in his way.
''I haven't won a major yet. I have a lot of work left to do,'' Matsuyama said. ''But that's not to say that I don't have confidence.''
August 6, 2017
Belgium's Thomas Pieters rolled in a 32-foot birdie putt at the final hole on Saturday to share the third-round lead at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational with two-time major winner Zach Johnson.
Johnson also birdied the last hole at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, briefly taking sole possession of the lead before Pieters, who led by as many as three strokes, joined him.
Johnson finished with eight birdies and three bogeys in his five-under par 65 while Pieters had eight birdies and four bogeys in his four-under 66.
At nine-under 201 they were one stroke in front of Australian veteran Scott Hend, who carded a sensational 63 for 202.
Hend is playing in the Bridgestone for the first time, gaining entry to the field thanks to topping the Asian Tour Order of Merit last season.
He had four birdies on each side with one bogey, capping his round with a 15-foot birdie putt at 18.
Japan's Hideki Matsuyama was alone in fourth after a 67 for 203.
Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy carded a 68 to head a group on 204 that also included Canadian Adam Hadwin and American Charley Hoffman, who both shot 67.
Pieters started the day two shots behind overnight leader Jimmy Walker and surged quickly to the top with four birdies in his first five holes.
Another birdie at the eighth was followed by his first bogey of the day at the ninth.
He rebounded with a birdie at 10, but errant tee shots led to bogeys at 13 and 14 and a birdie at 16 was followed by another bogey at 17.
"My ball striking was good, driver was not good ... and I managed to score really well, so pretty happy," said Pieters, a three-time winner on the European tour.
"I have to find more fairways tomorrow if I want to win," he added. "Maybe a bit more 3-woods or an iron off the tee. Hopefully we can straighten out the driver."
Johnson had managed to get his nose in front, rolling in a 10-footer at the last, when Pieters drained his long putt at the last for a share of the lead.
Johnson will be seeking his first title since he captured his second career major at the British Open at St. Andrews in 2015.
"Clearly the putts today were very good," Johnson said. "I hit a lot of greens. I hit a lot of fairways. You give yourself ample opportunities, occasionally they're going to fall."
McIlroy, impressive off the tee, said he felt he could have "got a lot more" out of his round.
"Three behind going into tomorrow, which still with how I'm playing I feel I can make that ground up pretty easily," he said. "I just need to see a couple of putts drop."
Walker, who will be defending his title at the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow next week, was in trouble early with two double-bogeys and two bogeys on the front nine.
He was six adrift, in a group that also included Australian Jason Day -- who had turned things around after an early double-bogey only to close with back-to-back bogeys in a 70.
The group on 207 also included US Open champion Brooks Koepka, while British Open winner Jordan Spieth was a further stroke back in a group on 208.
August 5, 2017
The sun finally came out, and Jimmy Walker saw a glimpse of what he hopes are brighter days ahead.
In a year marked by coping with Lyme disease and bouts of fatigue, Walker endured rain delays of nearly five hours Friday and posted a 5-under 65 for a two-shot lead going into the weekend at the Bridgestone Invitational.
The timing couldn't be better for Walker, who goes to Quail Hollow next week to defend his title in the PGA Championship.
''It hadn't been a lot of fun this year,'' Walker said. ''But it's nice to see some putts go in and make some solid swings and keep rounds going, make par putts, just the stuff I haven't been doing.''
He was at 7-under 133, two shots ahead of Thomas Pieters of Belgium, who had a 70.
Walker didn't have a lot going last year until he finished well in the Canadian Open, and then went wire-to-wire at Baltusrol the next week to win the PGA Championship. So maybe there's another spark he can find at Firestone Country Club.
''There's still a lot of golf on a hard course, but I know it's there,'' he said.
He also has a slew of players not far behind him in this World Golf Championship. Rory McIlroy put together a steady round of 69 and was three shots back, along with Zach Johnson and Hideki Matsuyama, who each shot 67.
The large group at 3-under 137 included Jordan Spieth, going after his third straight victory. Spieth missed a short par putt on the 15th and was slipping behind when he faced an awkward lie from the edge of a bunker . Stumbling out of the sand backward, he nearly holed the shot and made birdie, and then he stuffed his approach to 3 feet for birdie on the 18th hole to salvage a 70.
Jason Day, winless in nearly 15 months, also got back into the picture despite some mild back pain. He opened with three straight birdies and shot 30 on the front nine to get back near the leaders, though two bogeys on the back nine slowed him and he shot 66. He was in the group at 137.
''The front side definitely felt like 2015, 2016,'' Day said, alluding to his best stretch of golf when he rose to No. 1 in the world. ''I was just pouring in everything. I know that it's still in there. I've just got to keep practicing hard. I know it will eventually happen.''
Day felt he was slowed by the last - and longest - of the rain delays. He returned to three-putt the 10th for a bogey and never got back any momentum.
It was like that for everyone who slogged through a 10-hour day.
The second round was delayed 45 minutes at the start, and then another 45 minutes when a small band of storms rolled through. A delayed of some 3 1/2 hours followed, making it feel like two separate rounds and one long day.
Walker still isn't out of the woods just yet. He first thought he had mononucleosis around the Masters, and it eventually was diagnosed as Lyme's disease. He has tried to muddle through the year when his energy allowed, though there hasn't been a lot of practice.
And even a 65, which matched his low score of the year, wasn't smooth sailing.
''It's day to day,'' he said. ''I felt pretty good all week physically, and I wake up this morning and I've just got his overall flu feeling in my body. So I take some Advil, it goes away. And then during the last break, it came back, so I took some more. Now it's gone. You just never know when it's going to spike up.''
But he felt good enough to make birdie on both par 3s on the back nine, and drop only one shot on the round.
The scoring has been good with the rain and softer greens, and a South course that was in pristine condition to start the tournament. A strong wind arrived after the storm cleared, which kept everyone's attention.
Only two dozen players from the 76-man field remained under par.
Among those who fell back was Dustin Johnson, the world's No. 1 player still trying to find his form from a back injury that knocked him out of the Masters. He hit only one green in regulation on the front nine - 60 feet from the hole - and shot 40. Johnson didn't make a single birdie in his round of 75 that knocked him 10 shots out of the lead heading into the final major of the year.
August 4, 2017
Belgian Thomas Pieters sank a 31-foot birdie putt on his final hole to fire a five-under 65 and take a one-shot lead after the first round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational on Thursday.
The 25-year-old Pieters rolled in five birdies on the day including his long putt on the par-four, 494-yard No. 9 as he leads Russell Knox by one shot.
Reigning British Open champion Jordan Spieth and Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, who split with his long-time caddie this week, are part of a group of six that shot 67s and are two shots back in Akron, Ohio.
Kevin Kisner, Bubba Watson, Britain's Ross Fisher and Spain's Jon Rahm also shot 67s.
Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott and Adam Hadwin are among a half dozen golfers at 68.
Pieters is the highest-ranked Belgian golfer ever at world number 34. He is playing on the PGA Tour as a Special Temporary Member this season.
He fashioned together a crisp bogey-free round at the Firestone Country Club course.
"I only had two putts from above the hole, the rest of them were pretty straight-forward putts," said Pieters, who hit four of 14 fairways.
"I managed to find a lot of greens today. That was important as well. It was kind of a stress-free round on my back nine."
Knox made bogey on his final hole, spoiling his chance to tie Pieters for the lead.
Spieth is coming off wins at the Travelers Championship and the British Open.
"I really scrambled nicely and made a couple nice long putts in the middle of the round," said Spieth, who finished with five birdies and two bogeys. "When my pace starts to feel good and I start to get dialed in, that is when I know I am hitting it good."
McIlroy is competing in his first tournament since sacking his caddie for the past nine years, J.P. Fitzgerald.
McIlroy, who has struggled this season, is hoping the caddie change produces results and so far the early returns are good. Harry Diamond served as McIlroy's caddie on Thursday.
"It was good. Little weird at the start," said McIlroy, who had five birdies and two bogeys. "It's been nine years since I had someone different on my bag.
"I'm taking a little bit more responsibility on myself and there were a couple of times where I probably should have hit another club, but that's on me, not anyone else.
"I'd much rather be frustrated at my own decision than someone else's."
Phil Mickelson and Australian Jason Day both shot 71 and are tied for 33rd.