10 Takeaways from the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

Pittsburgh, PA — Firestone Country Club could sense that the PGA TOUR was leaving the venue and decided to wreak some havoc on the way out.

In fact, just two of the final 10 players to tee off finished with under par rounds and this was also a trend for the remaining 61 golfers as the weekend provided a tougher test than anticipated. This was supported by no bogey-free rounds Sunday.

One player rose from the chaos and it was Justin Thomas who grabbed a piece of the lead Friday and refused to let go.

Thomas won by four strokes over Kyle Stanley, his closest pursuer to win the 2018 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

“I’ve been knocking on the door this year between Mexico and the Match Play,” Thomas said. “I felt like I was very close and it was kind of one of the few things left that I felt I needed to knock off or felt that would have been nice to add to the resume, for sure. To win on a golf course like this, a championship golf course and always against a very tough field, it just felt great. I really, really played well all week.”

1. Thomas’s win was essentially a master class from beginning to end. Sure there was a dry spell in the middle stages of Thursday’s first round but there was a lot to like.

Even someone who has accomplished so much at such a young age such as Thomas can admit that the nerves were there and part of that had to come from his competitive streak which was hungry for a win.

Still Thomas came into the final round with a three-stroke lead which provides a little margin for error, but he had a number in mind which provided some help.

Thomas did not reach that number, but the field gave back some shot and when Jason Day got to within two strokes, the former made a 10-foot birdie putt.

Day meanwhile ended up tying for 10th place.

“I’m just in a great place mentally right now, I just was so patient and calm all week,” Thomas said. “I mean, I think I made six bogeys all week, something like that, which is pretty good around this place as many birdies as I feel like I make.”

Thomas now passes Justin Rose and is once again the second-ranked golfer in the world and joins both Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson as three-time winners on the PGA TOUR.

2. It is easy to be locked into the task at hand, but kudos to Thomas for specifically seeking out a child he hit with a golf ball and then going the extra step to ensure he had water.

Yes the tournament was essentially over, but it is a nice gesture that cannot be talked about enough.

3. Ohio has been a worthwhile trip for Kyle Stanley this season as he lost in a playoff at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide and now is a runner-up in Akron, good for a total of $1,855,200 earned for those two events alone.

Stanley’s performances do not come out of nowhere as he previously has one twice on TOUR.

“It kind of shows we’re working on the right things,” he said. “It certainly shows my game’s in really good shape, which is good heading into the PGA next week. Yeah, just spend a little bit more time on the putting green in preparation for next week, but other than that, I’m really happy with how everything else is.”

One of those wins came last season at Quicken Loans National where, just over a month ago, Stanley was able to reflect on a journey in which he was 368th after the 2016 Careerbuilder Challenge.

With this latest result, Stanley has jumped 10 spots to 26th in the ranking, the best mark in his career as well as 18th in the FedExCup standings.

“In a pretty short period of time we’ve made some pretty significant strides so I’m really happy with that,” Stanley said in June. “I think it’s all about the perspective you have and in my mind I feel like we’re doing a lot of really good things and our preparation’s been really good. The coaches I have are great and giving me a lot of good guidance. I think we just have to stick on the path that we’re on right now, seems to be working okay.”

4. Brooks Koepka quietly earned his first top-10 since winning at the U.S. Open nearly a month ago and did so with no rounds above par and a 68, 67 weekend.

“It was as good as I’ve hit it in my pro career,” he said of his round. “I don’t think I’ve ever driven it as well as I did. My iron play was fantastic, yardage control was great. The greens, I mean, I can’t tell you how many lip-outs I’ve had. I feel like the good putts just weren’t falling and then the bad ones were just horrendous. I don’t know if it was a little bit of speed, sometimes a little bit of green reading, and then sometimes a little bit of luck.”

It is clear that this week has Koepka feeling confident and with the PGA Championship fast approaching that could be very dangerous.

“Some of the best majors I’ve played have been U.S. Opens and PGA Championships,” said Koepka. “I like the way they set it up. It’s somewhat similar to a U.S. Open. The fairways maybe just aren’t as tight. Well, that being said, the last two years have been a little bit different U.S. Opens, but I like the way the PGA sets it up. It’s very difficult. Usually about 10 under par wins it. It’s a battle, for sure.”

5. By no means was this the weekend Tiger Woods was looking for, but the finish, a birdie on the par-4 18th hole certainly was.

Woods was unable to make a move Saturday and despite birdies on his opening two holes, had an up-and-down last nine which includes two double bogeys and no par until the par-4 17th hole as his round lost its front-nine consistency.

The gameplan for Sunday was to play aggressive to at least provide a chance to shoot a low score, but he had a 35.71% driving accuracy and hit just over 55% of greens in regulation.

“I was just going to be aggressive and see what happens,” Woods said. “I was so far back that I had to play a great round just to get in the top-10. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t.”

Addressing specifics, Woods did not feel he hit the ball cleanly and had difficulty hitting putts hard enough.

In an effort to play at Firestone Country Club, Woods pulled out all of the stops while sticking to his TOUR schedule but admitted he did not hit as many shots before the event.

Part of this may be due to the demanding schedule coming up which includes the upcoming PGA Championship, FedExCup playoffs and the Ryder Cup whether that is as a vice captain or a player/vice-captain.

Assessing the week, it is clear how much Woods loves this course and the gallery certainly returned the same respect throughout the week, despite the inconsistencies from tee to green.

“This has been just a fantastic event for all these years,” said Woods. “I’ve been coming here for over 20 years and see the same people following. You see them sometimes on the same hole. We’re going to miss that.”

6. Dustin Johnson had a start to forget with his even par total trailing the leaders by 11 strokes, but his 10-under weekend total left him tied for third place after 72 holes.

Johnson was in danger of losing his top spot in the FedExCup standings just a week after his RBC Heritage victory but this weekend allowed him to secure that position.

A key to this was putting in his Spider Mini putter which he used and enjoyed at The PLAYERS Championship.

“I felt like I was working really hard on the putting and it just wasn’t getting any better, so I switched putters and it worked a little bit,” he said.

Johnson now has the aforementioned win and this hard-charging weekend heading into Missouri.

7. Ian Poulter came into the week with plenty of motivation and was looking to improve on his previous best T13 finish and accomplished that but a four-over par 74 caused him to finish T10.

Poulter is now 14.62 points behind Paul Casey for the final World Points spot for an automatic European Ryder Cup Team spot.

Despite his Sunday finish, Poulter is playing one of the best stretches of golf in his career and more importantly appears to be enjoying himself once again.

8. Thorbjørn Olesen ended up tied for third with Johnson, good for his career-best finish on the PGA TOUR.

“I love the course,” he said. “It’s a tough golf course. I haven’t been driving it very well this week, but today was a lot better. The greens are some of the purest we play on Tour. You need to be on top of your game. I hit more fairways, a lot more greens today, so made it a bit easier for myself.”

9. Tyrrell Hatton had come off a birdie on the par-3 seventh hole Friday but a ruling at the par-4 eighth hole made him pause.

“Eight was a really good par save,” he said. “It was an interesting ruling from the front of the green, my ball had ended up in someone’s pitch mark. Apparently if it’s not your pitch mark, you can’t actually take relief, which is quite frustrating. I tried to do the best I could. I had to putt it and you can’t really judge how it’s going to come out of that. Unfortunately it was 20 feet short, but on the other side, it was great to roll that in and keep the momentum going.”

Hatton shot a three-under par 67 Friday and ultimately finished T28.

10. While on the topic of Hatton, he had another tweet which certainly drew some interest.

It could be argued that the Mizzen+Main commercial featuring Phil Mickelson gathered more headlines than Thomas’s win and Hatton could not help but recount a conversation from the 18th fairway.

Photo credit: Getty Images

Author: Zac Weiss