Opposite paths put Pieters and Johnson on top
August 05, 2017
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
Zach Johnson and Thomas Pieters share the lead at Bridgestone
AKRON, Ohio. – Notes and observations from Saturday’s third round of the World Golf Championships – Bridgestone Invitational, where Zach Johnson and Thomas Pieters pushed themselves to the top.
Johnson (65) and Pieters (66) will play in the final group Sunday after moving to 9-under par for the week, one clear of a charging Scott Hend (63) and two ahead of Hideki Matsuyama (67).
For more from Firestone Country Club, check out the Daily Wrap.
Zach Johnson hit 12 of 14 fairways on Saturday, making it 26 of 42 for the week at the World Golf Championships – Bridgestone Invitational.
Thomas Pieters has hit just 13 fairways this week, adding four to his tally Saturday. It ranks him last in the 76-man field.
Yet the two players will head out tied for the lead in Sunday’s final group at Firestone Country Club, sitting in the box seat for victory.
Pieters made his strokes back on approach, leading the field in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green.
Johnson’s keys to success include a cooperative putter. He’s leading the field in Strokes Gained: Putting.
Whichever way they have made it to the top, they both clearly are excited to stay there.
“My ball striking was good, driver was not good. It's been like that for ages but I managed to score really well, so pretty happy,” Pieters said.
“I’m in a good position for tomorrow.”
Pieters is a three-time European Tour winner and has three top-5 finishes this season on the PGA TOUR. Now the 25-year-old wants to close out what would be the biggest win of his young career.
“The wins I've had I finished really well. But I think the ones I've gotten in contention this year I've gotten very quick, and changing direction, my backswing got a little quick,” Pieters admitted.
“Not so much nervous but just anxious to finish and to have a good finish. Maybe tomorrow I have to get back to being calm and just let it come to me.”
Johnson is a 12-time PGA TOUR winner and two-time major winner, yet he hasn’t won since the 2015 Open Championship. He was on his way to a potential win a few weeks ago at the John Deere Classic only to fall away, admitting nerves got the best of him.
He’s ready this time.
“I was ready when I signed my scorecard on 18 that day,” Johnson said.
“I had nerves, unfortunately I probably saw the board a little too early and had nerves around that 13, 14, and it kind of caught up with me. Since I signed my scorecard, I've been ready for this.
“Not suggesting it's going to happen, you know, still too many holes, but I'm anxious for the opportunity is really what it comes down to.”
HOT HEND HUNTS TOUR RETURN AND PRESIDENTS CUP BERTH
Scott Hend might be a foreign name to some, but the Australian has been on the PGA TOUR before. In fact, he led the TOUR in driving distance in 2005, his second and last full-time season in the USA.
Now, some 12 years later, Hend has popped back up after a sublime tournament best 7-under 63 rocketed him to third place, just one shot off the lead.
The 43-year-old certainly hasn’t been missing, winning 13 international titles including two European Tour events.
He’s been a staple on the European and Asian Tours for a long time and was a member of the Australian Olympic team last year.
But he still lives in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida and dreams of a return to the PGA TOUR. Should he win in Akron on Sunday, he will secure a three-year exemption.
“I would play here tomorrow, no worries,” Hend said of the prospect of taking up PGA TOUR membership.
“This is the place where all professionals want to play full time and be out here for as long as you possibly can because this is where the majority of the best golfers in the world play.
“I reside here, my kids go to school here, it would be a lot less travel for me and I love playing golf here.”
Hend’s great play will not go unnoticed by International Presidents Cup captain Nick Price, who dropped the Aussie’s name in a pre-tournament press conference about guys outside the box he’s got his eyes on for his captain’s picks.
“I have a lot of hard work to do before I could actually be considered as a pick, but I would like nothing more than to play on a Presidents Cup team,” Hend said.
“If I play well enough and I was in a position where Nick could actually pick me, I'd be very honored to take that spot.”
SHOT OF THE DAY
Rory McIlroy gets the crowd going with a chip-in birdie at Bridgestone
Hideki is back.
In his 100th PGA TOUR appearance, Japan’s Matsuyama has quietly positioned himself in fourth place, just two off the lead.
It is the continuation of a resurgence for the 25-year-old who already has two wins and three runner-up results this season to sit third in the FedExCup standings.
After winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open in early February, Matsuyama failed to find another top 10 until the U.S. Open where he was tied second.
In his last start at The Open Championship, he was T14, fading on the final day.
Now he’s up top again.
“I did play well early. I haven't really come back from that yet, but I'm working hard toward it and hopefully in these next six weeks I can get a victory here or there,” Matsuyama said.
“I'm just happy to be in the position I'm in. I didn't really expect this earlier in the week and I'm pleased to be where I have a chance to maybe get a win.”
HOFFMAN HIGH UP AGAIN
Charley Hoffman’s days of flying under the radar might soon be over if he can rally from three back to win the World Golf Championships – Bridgestone Invitational.
Hoffman is a four-time winner on the PGA TOUR and has been regularly in the mix this season, yet still somehow fails to garner the attention of other stars.
So far in 2017, his results have included a T4 at the Genesis Open, T2 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a T3 at the Travelers Championship and he lost in a playoff last week at the RBC Canadian Open.
He also led at times during the Masters, and contended at the U.S. Open on the way to finishing eighth.
It has him 12th in the FedExCup, the highest rank of any non-winner this season.
“I think I'm starting to realize my potential and what I can do. I mean if you don't believe in yourself, no one else will believe in you,” Hoffman said when asked if he felt underappreciated.
But he doesn’t mind not having to deal with the hype and responsibilities being an elite star comes with.
“I would like to win more big events and be under the radar. Is that possible? I don't know if that's possible,” he smiled.
“I think it's a double-edged sword. I like where I'm at.”
CALL OF THE DAY
ODDS AND ENDS
Rory McIlroy set a 54-hole record at the World Golf Championships – Bridgestone Invitational by notching up 38 drives over 300 yards. The 2014 champion has had his driver cranking, beating J.B. Holmes record of 37. He sits T5 at 6-under just three back. McIlroy is 1st in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee at 4.952 above the field average, 1st in driving distance (344.2 yards for the two official measured holes and 328 yards for all holes recorded by ShotLink). In addition to his length off the tee, McIlroy is also T11 in accuracy, hitting 24 of 42 fairways.
The third-round leader has only won three of the last 10 times at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. This season on the PGA TOUR, the 54-hole leader has gone on to win 12 of 38 events, most recently Jordan Spieth at The Open Championship.
There have been 24 wins by 19 players in their 20s this season on the PGA TOUR with Thomas Pieters, Hideki Matsuyama and Rory McIlroy among players who could increase this trend. Scott Hend could well and truly buck it. At 43, Hend would be the second-oldest player to win a World Golf Championships event. Vijay Singh won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in 2008 at 45 years, 5 months and 12 days. Also the lowest ranked player to win a World Golf Championships event is fellow Australian Craig Parry (118th in the world), who won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in 2002 at Sahalee Country Club, the one year the event was not played at Firestone Country Club. Hend is currently 107th and would be the second-lowest ranked player to win a World Golf Championships event.
BEST OF SOCIAL MEDIA
Thomas Pieters has hit 13 fairways this week.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) August 5, 2017
Zach Johnson hit 12 Saturday.
They share the 54-hole lead (-9). pic.twitter.com/micry8vP8i