Akron, OH— Tommy Fleetwood’s dad Pete has long wanted to attend the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational just to snap a picture with the event’s signature golf ball, but after Friday’s round, his son may just enjoy the event too.
Fleetwood is one of three players leading the Bridgestone Invitational two rounds in following a bogey-free seven-under par 63, which tied for his lowest score on the PGA TOUR.
“I got out of position a couple of times,” he said. “When I did, I kind of got away with the tee shot on 14 and made a really good 4. Overall, I drove it well. My irons, I just tended to hit exactly where we were picking the spots and I holed a few putts. You’ve got days like that where it’s going well and you’ve just got to make the most of them.”
This is Fleetwood’s second time atop the leaderboard after 36 holes, with the first coming at the 2017 U.S. Open.
Ian Poulter followed up his first-round 62, with a three-under par round of 67.
“I feel comfortable in my game, which gives the impression that I’m looking very comfortable and calm,” said Poulter. “When you’re making birdies and you’re at the top of the leaderboard and you’re not making many mistakes, then everything’s kind of stress free.”
Poulter did concede that it was hard to try and follow that 62, but the course conditioned remaining scoreable.
“It’s never going to be easy just to go out there and feel like, hey, we’re going to go do another 62,” he said. “I’m playing well, I feel aggressive. I feel like the greens, the way they are, you can be super aggressive, and that’s what I need to do. I need to keep reminding myself that if I play aggressive, it kind of brings out some of the good golf in me and I need to continue that.”
A key for Poulter thus far his been his Strokes Gained: Approaching the Green, which is at +4.548, good for second in the field.
At the par-5 16th hole, Justin Thomas was put to the test. Both he and his caddie Jimmy Johnson had made a “bad mistake” hitting his second shot off a tree.
Thomas felt hitting 3-wood was unnecessary and he should have taken his par, but instead pushed the ball too far right and hit it into the water.
Now Thomas was staring a double-bogey square in the eyes but managed to make a tricky 11-foot putt to save his bogey.
“You never want to make a double, although it is a lot harder par-5 than others,” Thomas said. “Just saving one shot there and making a putt that was a difficult putt, it had a lot of break on it. So both that and saving a shot gave me some confidence.”
Thomas quickly recovered with a five-under par last hole and ended the day tied for the lead. A win for Thomas would give him five in-a-row when leading or co-leading after 36 holes.
The afternoon wave proved to be responsible for the those tied for fourth place, two stroke behind the trio’s second-round lead.
Kyle Stanley appeared poised to take the lead with another strong first nine, this time a three-under par 32, but was undone by the par-3 12th hole.
Stanley first started by making a 22-foot birdie putt on the par-3 fifth and then on the par-3 seventh, converted a 47-yard shot from out of the rough for his birdie.
“I didn’t really hit the best approach in there on five, but hit a pretty good putt, probably a 20-footer with quite a bit of break,” recalled Stanley. “I got away with one on 7 there. I probably should have hit a 5-iron, hit a 6 that came up a little bit short, but my lie in the rough was okay and there wasn’t really much movement to that pitch. Fortunately, I got the speed right. It was nice to pick up a couple there.”
Stanley would give them back on 12 with a double bogey after three-putting after his lag putt for birdie was close to the hole.
He also recorded bogey on the next hole, the par-4 13th hole, but a birdie on the par-4 14th hole seemed to steady his game as he finished at nine-under par.
“I certainly didn’t rush it,” Stanley said of his bogey putt on 12. “I mean, I really don’t know what happened there. You know, we were able to birdie a hole a couple holes later and, you know, kind of hung on after that. It happens, just got to move on.”
Jason Day also finds himself in position to earn his third PGA TOUR victory of the season after his four-under par round of 66 leaves him at nine-under par for the tournament.
Day got off to a quick start recording birdies on his opening two holes, but that was undone by bogeys on the par-3 fifth hole and par-4 eighth hole. His last nine featured three birdies in the final four holes.
“Down 10 I hit a great 3-wood and hit a nice wedge in there and birdied that,” said Day. “From there it kind of switched the momentum for me and I actually kind of played really nicely and I was happy about how the game ended up panning out. I actually just didn’t putt as well as I hoped to on the back side.”
Several big names remain in contention
There are several other notable names in contention with Rory McIlroy leading that list at eight-under par, three shots behind the lead, using birdies on the closing two holes saving his round.
Before retreating to the clubhouse, McIlroy admitted it was not a good round, detailing the par-4 10th hole where his approach flew over the green, which led to a bogey.
“It was eventful, an adventure to say the least,” he said. “You know, I was 1-under standing on the 17th tee and I think if I had to finish 1-under, it would have felt like the worst I could have shot today. So to get those two birdies on the last two holes is obviously very nice and get a couple closer to the lead.”
Haotong Li gave himself a present for his 23rd birthday with his three-under par round of 67 which had him tied for eighth place, four shots behind the trio of leaders.
His highlight was an eagle on the par-5 second hole on a Firestone Course which concedes one of the lowest eagle totals on the PGA TOUR. His bogeys on the final two holes ended his double-digit score total hopes, but kept in good position for the weekend.
World number four Jon Rahm was at eight-under par through his first 10 holes, but fell back two shots with his back-nine score of one-over par 36 halted any momentum.
“It was extremely good tee to green,” said Rahm. “I didn’t make a single putt. It’s about as worse a round I could have shot today, to be honest. There’s no other way to look at it. Played way too good tee to green and just didn’t make the putts. I will take a lot of positive. Right now I’m frustrated. It’s hard to focus on the positive right now. In a couple hours I’ll be fine.”
Tony Finau has been known as someone who tends to raise his game in the bigger events and he is also tied for 10th place at six-under par.
“I’ve got a few guys to catch,” he said. “It looks like guys are playing well out here in scorable conditions, so I have to get after it on the weekend. I proved to myself I can do it on this type of golf course and I have played nicely so far.”
Tiger Woods also is very much in the mix, also tied for 10th heading into Saturday, which is dangerous given that he has the lowest scoring average on TOUR during the third round of a tournament.
“There’s, I don’t know, 40-plus guys under par,” Woods said. “That’s never the case here at Firestone. So tomorrow’s going to be one of those days I’m going to have to go out there and post a low one and see what happens.”
Poulter talks Ryder Cup, FedEx Cup
It has been pretty clear these first couple of rounds that Ian Poulter has had plenty of motivation to perform well, as the schedule is once again jam packed with the PGA Championship, FedExCup Playoffs and Ryder Cup all in the very near future.
Poulter is first trying to take care of business at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational as he is tied for the lead at Firestone Country Club’s swan song of the event, at least for the time being.
It has almost been a requirement for Poulter to go low with how soft Firestone is playing and it likely will be much of the same throughout the weekend.
“It shows you how strong the players are, because I don’t think the course has played too different to previous years when we’ve played when we’ve had rain during the week and greens are super soft and you can be aggressive to every pin,” he said. “So I just think it says how good the top-50 players in the world are.”
No secret can be made about how much Poulter enjoys and thrives on the Ryder Cup but he currently is not an automatic pick to be on the team, though his recent form plus prior history make him almost a guaranteed lock to at worst be a captain’s pick.
Regardless of how these next few weeks turn out, Poulter does not care how he makes the Ryder Cup, so long as he is hitting shots in Paris that week.
“I would like to do enough to make it by my own good play, and if I keep doing that, then obviously I will,” said Poulter. “So I’ve got a few tournaments left, I think I’ve got four tournaments to put some more points on the board. You know, I can just do what I can do and see what happens.”
Just to demonstrate how high of a priority the Ryder Cup is, Poulter is considering skipping the FedEx Cup event in Boston were he to qualify.
“I’ve had a busy summer, I’ve played a lot of golf,” he said. “If I’m in a position where I feel that I’m not sure when the picks are or I would like to take an extra week off and be very ready for the Ryder Cup. I’ve never made the FedExCup TOUR Championship. I was extremely close, I was tied 30th. Missed that by .02. Not that I remember too well.”
WGC-Bridgestone Invitational Second Round Leaderboard
T1. Tommy Fleetwood -11
T1. Ian Poulter -11
T1. Justin Thomas -11
T4. Jason Day -9
T4. Kyle Stanley -9
T6. Si Woo Kim -8
T6. Rory McIlroy -8
T8. Haotong Li -7
T8. Luke List -7
T10. Tony Finau -6
T10. Marc Leishman -6
T10. Louis Oosthuizen -6
T10. Jon Rahm -6
T10. Webb Simpson -6
T10. Tiger Woods -6
Notable third round pairings
8:20 Shubhankar Sharma
8:55 Jordan Spieth, Charl Schwartzel
11:55 Rickie Fowler, Kevin Na
1:05 Marc Leishman, Tiger Woods
1:25 Luke List, Jon Rahm
1:35 Rory McIlroy, Haotong Li
1:45 Jason Day, Si Woo Kim
1:55 Justin Thomas, Kyle Stanley
2:05 Ian Poulter, Tommy Fleetwood
They said it on Mickelson dancing
Friday feeling. 🐛 pic.twitter.com/YowFUynFE9
— Web.com Tour (@WebDotComTour) August 3, 2018
“Tell you what I did see after I spoke to you all yesterday, Phil Mickelson’s commercial. How about that? That was unbelievable. Phil’s Phil and we love him for it and it’s great.” – Rory McIlroy
“I think only Phil can move like that. He’s got the karate chop going and throw away the golf ball, the disco, the Kung Fu. He’s got a lot going on and only he can pull that off. Who knows, he may turn into a dance, kind of like that Drake Kiki song, everybody doing that. Maybe it will turn into the Phil dance, but pretty interesting moves there.”
For the first time since 2011, there is a tie atop the leaderboard after two rounds at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Adam Scott won that year’s event… Though the course still played softly, there were 32 rounds below par among the field of 71 which is somewhat significantly lower than Thursday’s total of 45. The par-3 12th hole played toughest Friday with a score to par of 3.225, while once again the par-5 second hole played easiest at 4.479 to par… There were three bogey-free rounds Friday in Tommy Fleetwood (63), Louis Oosthuizen (66) and Tyrrell Hatton (67). There were eight bogey-free rounds Thursday.
Photo credit: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images