Here is a recap of the third round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, played at Firestone Country Club’s South Course in Akron, Ohio:
LEADING: An exciting conclusion to the third round gives us two guys at the top.
Thomas Pieters, the first-round leader, responded to a Friday 70 with a beautiful Saturday 66. He actually birdied four of his first five holes and was 5 under through 10 on the round, 10 under overall and ahead by two but struggled a bit down the stretch. By the time he reached 18 green, he needed to sink a 32-footer for birdie just to reach 9 under. That number had already been posted by Zach Johnson, who closed out a 5-under 65 with a 10-footer for birdie at the last. Pieters, now one back, proceeded to drain his bomb for birdie to get in with 66 and at that 9-under number.
Overall, Pieters bogeyed three of his last six holes (Nos. 13, 14 and 17), but those pair of birdies at Nos. 16 and 18 made sure he finished in a share of the lead. The 25-year-old Belgian is playing a significant number of PGA Tour events for the first time in 2016-17, so that’s the main reason he hasn’t yet won on this circuit. Pieters is a star in the making who already owns three European Tour wins.
Johnson, of course, is a two-time major champion. Those are two of his 12 PGA Tour wins, and his triumph at the 2015 British Open actually marks his last victory on Tour. Johnson made eight birdies in the third round and has improved two strokes each day (69, 67, 65). It’s either a first PGA Tour win or a first PGA Tour win in two years if one of these guys wins this thing Sunday.
CHASING: Scott Hend fires the day’s best round by two shots and the low round of the tournament, as he posts a 63 to jump from T-13 to solo third at 8 under. Hideki Matsuyama (third-round 67) is only two off the lead and Rory McIlroy (68) finds himself just three back. Charley Hoffman and Adam Hadwin are also at that 6-under number.
SHOT OF THE DAY: McIlroy might not be in contention without a little birdie-birdie surge early in his back nine. Here’s the backend of that, a vital chip-in at the par-3 12th.
QUOTABLE: “I really had a chance to shoot a low round today. … It just wasn’t meant to be.” – Jordan Spieth
SHORT SHOTS: Jason Day can’t back up a strong second-round 66, posting a Saturday 70 to drop six spots to a tie for 10th at 3 under. … Spieth disappointed even more, as the quote above would suggest. After starting birdie-birdie to get within two, Spieth immediately went bogey-bogey to kill any momentum. He bogeyed two of his last three holes, too. Such a promising start ended up as a 1-over 71 and now Spieth is T-16 and likely out of contention at 2 under. … Rickie Fowler, on the other hand, fires a promising 67 to reach Spieth at 2 under. Adam Scott (69) is also at that number. … Bubba Watson fires a 66 to jump 20 spots to a tie for 10th at 3 under. … Brooks Koepka is also 3 under after a 67. … Jimmy Walker, the 36-hole leader, stumbles to a Saturday 74 to plummet to a tie for 10th at 3 under. … Matt Kuchar fires a 66 to jump 18 spots to a tie for 22nd at 1 under. … Jon Rahm has now gone 67-77-67 and is T-30 at 1 over. If only that were three straight 67s… World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, the defending champion, also finds himself T-30 at 1 over after a third-round 68. … Phil Mickelson sits T-49 at 5 over.