Johnson gets back to work as a US Open champion
ABS-CBN Sports on Jun 30, 2016 05:21 PM
Dustin Johnson hits from the practice range during the practice round of the Bridgestone Invitational golf tournament at Firestone Country Club, Wednesday, June 29, 2016, in Akron, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
DOUG FERGUSON, AP Golf Writer
AKRON, Ohio (AP) — Dustin Johnson was on the range at Firestone for an hour and was lucky if he hit more than a dozen shots.
This would not be described as an intense practice session, for all the right reasons.
It was Johnson's first public appearance since he left Oakmont with the U.S. Open trophy for his first major. He flew home to Florida that night, set the trophy on the kitchen table so it would be the first thing he saw when he came down the stairs and then headed to The Bahamas for a double celebration — winning a major and his birthday. He turned 32 last Wednesday.
Johnson doesn't always have much to say, but his smile on the eve of the Bridgestone Invitational said it all.
"I felt like I've been playing really well all year and just haven't been able to get a W," he said. "It definitely came at a good time a couple weeks ago."
And now it's back to work.
This is the third World Golf Championship of the year (for every tour but Europe), and because of the Olympics, it comes at strange time. The Bridgestone Invitational is two weeks after the U.S. Open and two weeks before the British Open.
Johnson tees off in the penultimate group Thursday in a U.S. Open-winning trio with Jordan Spieth and Justin Rose.
THE FIELD: The Bridgestone Invitational features a 61-man field, the smallest since only 39 players competed in 2001 when this WGC event was exclusively for current Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup team members.
Blame that on the Olympics, and a clash between the PGA Tour and the European Tour.
This week also is the 100th anniversary of the French Open, the oldest national championship in continental Europe. The European Tour, under new chief Keith Pelley, offered its members plenty of incentive to be in Paris — and to not be in Ohio.
Europe did not sanction this WGC. Prize money has been boosted slightly in the French Open, and Ryder Cup points have been boosted significantly. Plus, anyone playing the Bridgestone Invitational will not get any Ryder Cup points or credit for a start toward membership requirements.
The result is no Rory McIlroy, Masters champion Danny Willett, Lee Westwood or Martin Kaymer.
THE DEFENDING CHAMP: Shane Lowry made a bold decision to be at Firestone, where he got his first win in America last year.
He is just outside the Ryder Cup standings in Europe, only 13 world ranking points away from Andy Sullivan for the ninth spot. It would help to take advantage of extra points available in France. But the Irishman chose to come to Firestone to defend his title.
Coming off a tie for second in the U.S. Open, the Irishman is confident he can play well enough in the three remaining events on his schedule — the Scottish Open, British Open and PGA Championship — to make the team. If not, don't be surprised to see him add the Italian Open.
THE ROOKIES: Of the 61-man field, 15 players are at the Bridgestone Invitational for the first time.
It's an example of a growing list of young winners — Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger, Emiliano Grillo and Smylie Kaufman to name a few — and a few surprises.
William McGirt had never been to a WGC event until he won the Memorial a month ago. Neither had Brian Stuard when he won in New Orleans. Kevin Chappell still hasn't won, but a pair of runner-up finishes to Jason Day in Florida (Bay Hill, The Players Championship) shot him up well into the top 50.
The biggest surprise? Billy Hurley III, coming off his win at Congressional. He had never won on tour and was No. 607 in the world.
GOING FOR THE DOUBLE: Adam Scott (Doral) and Day (Match Play) have a chance to win two World Golf Championships in the same year, a feat that has only been achieved by the best two players of this generation — Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
Mickelson won at Doral and in Shanghai in 2009. Woods did six times.
THE OLYMPIANS: Assuming there's no more dropouts because of Zika or any other concern in Rio — and that's a big assumption — only 13 players currently eligible for the Olympics are in the field at the Bridgestone Invitational.