Sunday, December 10, 2017
Golf

Zach Johnson, Thomas Pieters share WGC lead going into final round at Firestone

AKRON, Ohio — Thomas Pieters finds golf to be a lot more enjoyable when he's playing from the fairway.

Sometimes, that includes another fairway.

The big hitter from Belgium ripped a fairway metal from the third fairway at Firestone over the trees and onto the green at the par-5 second, leading to one of three straight birdies to start the third round at the Bridgestone Invitational. Pieters needed another long shot — a 30-foot birdie putt that rammed into the back of the cup — to cap off a wild 4-under 66 and a share of the lead with Zach Johnson.

Johnson, who watched Rory McIlroy blast drives 300 yards or more all day, showed an efficient wedge game works, too. Just like Pieters, he had eight birdies in a round of 65 and holed a 10-foot birdie putt on the last hole.

Pieters and Johnson were at 9-under 201 going into today's final round.

Johnson hasn't won since 2015 when he captured his second major at St. Andrews, and he's just now starting to find some form with his short game. Pieters is a three-time winner on the European Tour who showed his potential at the Ryder Cup last year and now has his best chance to win in America since winning the NCAA title while playing for Illinois.

"First eight holes I was in the fairway, hit good shots, made putts," Pieters said. "And the last 11 is a struggle. I just was out of position every hole. (Today) I've just got to … hit fairways. That's it."

Johnson only missed two fairways. More importantly, he's giving himself chances and converted.

"Honing in the wedges with that distance control has been the key, and I think especially the scoring irons," Johnson said. "And then on a course like this, you've got to hit the ball in the fairway. This is the best I've driven it probably all year."

He said that after playing with McIlroy, who now has hit 39 out of his 42 drives at Firestone at least 300 yards. McIlroy, however, had to settle for 68 that left him three shots behind.

One shot off the lead was Australia's Scott Hend, who got into his first Bridgestone on a loophole and posted 63. The World Golf Championship set aside one spot for the winner of a designated event on the Asian Tour. When that tournament never came together, organizers agreed to take the winner of the Order of Merit from the previous year.

Hideki Matsuyama shot 67 and was two shots behind.

WOMEN'S BRITISH OPEN: I.K. Kim stood on the first tee at St. Andrews, Scotland, and seemed to have everything going against her: The wind was rising, heavy rain was falling and the temperature was dropping.

If that wasn't enough, Inbee Park had just toured Kingsbarns Links in a course record-tying 64 and was one shot back. Stacy Lewis, another past Open winner, was another shot back after 65.

Kim answered every challenge, shooting bogey-free 66 to move to 17-under 199 and a six-shot lead over Georgia Hall (70) and Moriya Jutanugarn (67), older sister of defending champ Ariya Jutanugarn. Lexi Thompson, who started the third round two shots behind, stumbled to 74 and wound up 10 shots back.

Kim, five years removed from infamously missing a 1-foot putt to win the Kraft Nabisco Championship, now is poised for redemption with her first major: "I have finally been able to let go of that. I was disappointed with my golf after 2012. I criticized myself too much, which is not healthy."

CHAMPIONS: Paul Goydos shot a tourney-record 60 to tie Kenny Perry (65) and Gene Sauers (64) at 12-under 130 for a one-shot lead after two rounds of the 3M Championship in Blaine, Min. Goydos, who shot 59 at the PGA's 2010 John Deere Classic, was 7 under through 12 holes, before birdies at 15, 16 and 17 and eagle on the par-5 18th.

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