McGirt looking to join rare company in Ohio
June 30, 2016
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
- William McGirt leads by three strokes at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
AKRON, Ohio -- Here are a few observations from Thursday's first round of the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational where William McGirt leads by three strokes. Those closest and chasing McGirt, who opened with a 64 at Firestone, are Emiliano Grillo, Jimmy Walker and Jason Day, who leads the FedExCup.
1. William McGirt didn't skip a beat when a sportswriter asked him to name four players who have won both the Memorial Tournament and the Bridgestone Invitational in the same year.
"Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods and Tiger Woods," McGirt responded with a grin.
Not a bad guess considering Woods has eight victories at Firestone and another five at Muirfield Village. McGirt, though, is working on the second leg of the Ohio Slam, too, after picking up his first PGA TOUR win last month at Muirfield Village.
The Carolinian -- he was born in the North and lives in the South -- arrived in Akron on Sunday. He got his first look at Firestone that afternoon, playing the front and riding the back.
"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."
The weeks since that playoff victory over Jon Curran in Dublin, Ohio have been a "very good crazy," McGirt says. He had so many people come up and congratulate him on the range at the U.S. Open that is was hard to practice -- not that he minded.
"To have as many guys come up and say congrats and they were happy for me, you know, that meant a lot to me," McGirt said. The emails and text messages were overwhelming, and McGirt is trying to answer each one personally.
"If somebody took the time to send me something, I want to take the time to send them a personal note back," McGirt said. "I'm not the kind of guy that's going to sit there and type out a message and hit copy and paste 500 times. That's just not me."
The victory gave McGirt, who ranks a career-high 13th in the FedExCup, job security in the form of a three-year exemption. Not to mention, his confidence -- particularly in his putter -- has improved exponentially.
"I'd been close several times and didn't get the job done," McGirt said. "To do it against, I don't know, what were there, seven, eight of the top 10 players in the world, and to do it in front of the greatest player of all time was pretty big for my confidence on the golf course."
2. BUSMAN'S HOLIDAY?: Jason Day and his family are staying in their RV across the street from Firestone Country Club. He went fishing in the nearby lake on Wednesday night, and he planned to try to catch more bass after finishing with a first-round 67 that left him tied for second.
But make no mistake. When he walks across Warner Road to the practice tee, Day is all business. The world No. 1 is seeking his fourth win of the season -- and his third World Golf Championships title.
On the horizon are two majors in his next three starts, including his title defense at the PGA Championship. So the Aussie practiced hard last week and if pleased with the way his game is rounding into shape.
And why not? Day was ranked second on Thursday in the following Strokes Gained categories -- Tee to green, Approach to the Green and Total. He was 15th in Strokes Gained off the Tee, 12th Around the Green and 31st in putting.
"Right now all I'm trying to do is just grind it out," Day said. "I really want to get myself into contention Sunday and hopefully either have the lead Sunday or be around the lead. ...
"I'd really like to win one of these because these are big events to win, and I just look at it this way, if I can win this one it extends that lead from 1 to 2 (in the world), and that's what I'm most concerned about is just really trying to extend that lead."
3. PATIENCE REWARDED: For 14 holes on Thursday, Jordan Spieth couldn't make anything happen at Firestone Country Club. The reigning FedExCup champion was 2 over, well down the leaderboard and frustrated with his ball-striking.
Birdies on the final four holes, though, changed his outlook considerably. Yes, he's still trying to get his scoring clubs to "click" but he'll start the second round tied for fifth and four strokes off the lead.
"This is one of the best rounds -- one of the happiest I've -- one of the happiest two unders I've ever shot for sure," Spieth said. "I wasn't supposed to shoot two under today. I kind of wish we kept on playing, even though I felt so kind of poor most of the round.
"Michael (Greller, his caddy) said it before the round, he said, hey, you shoot two under four times, you've got a chance to win this event. So we're at it after one round. At this point there's no pictures on a 68, we just try and shoot it again."
Spieth, who ranked third in Strokes Gained: Putting, has won twice this year, most recently at the DEAN & DELUCA Invitational in May. But the world No. 2 hasn't finished higher than 37th in his two starts since and says his game is in a "lull" right now.
"I'm really just searching for something that isn't far off, that's real simple, that feels like I'm more compact in my swing that allows me to time it better at the bottom," Spieth said. ""Again, it really is only taking place on my scoring clubs, but that's where you need them.
"It's close. It's almost there, and when it clicks, we're definitely in business right now the way the short game is on."
Spieth was pleased, though, with the way he handled adversity on Thursday.
"I told Michael before the round, I'm going to start the rest of this year to be a lot stronger mentally than I have been and just not dwell in conversation on each shot," Spieth said. "I'm trying to speed up my process, as well, and I think we did that, too.
4. SCHOOL PRIDE: Dustin Johnson didn't have to think twice when someone asked him what make him happier on Thursday -- the 69 he shot at Firestone of his alma mater's victory in the College World Series.
"College World Series for sure," he said. "That's awesome to see Coastal get it done. First time ever making it to the College World Series and then winning a national championship, that's pretty special, especially they had a couple elimination games that they had to win and they got it done, so that was pretty cool."
Johnson said the walking scorer in his group kept track of the game for him. The Chanticleers held on to beat Arizona 4-3 -- the game ending on a strikeout with Wildcats on second and third base.
"He was following along on his phone, so I would ask him every little bit to see what was going on," Johnson said.
Even though his attention was a bit divided, Johnson, who was playing for the first time since he won the U.S. Open by three shots, said it felt good to get back in competition.
"I was pretty pleased with my round," he said. "I thought it was pretty solid, especially -- I didn't practice too much last week. I didn't expect a whole lot today. I always expect to play well, but this golf course is playing tough. I felt like I played pretty solid all day."
QUOTE OF THE DAYNow that I've won once, I want to win twice, and I want to win three times. Big thing is to go ahead and get four wins so I can play (PGA TOUR Champions) when I turn 50.
CALL OF THE DAY
William McGirt's successful bunker hole out at Bridgestone
Free play-by-play coverage of the second round streams from 12-7 p.m. ET Friday on PGATOUR.COM
SHOT OF THE DAY
Shot of the Day
William McGirt's bunker blast is the Shot of the Day from Bridgestone