Dave Tindall

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Roundup: Firestone fights back

Saturday, August 4, 2018


Recap of the day

 

Early play: At last. After yielding a 62 and three 63s over the first two days, Firestone Country Club finally showed its teeth. The firmer conditions meant tee-shots didn’t hold the fairways as easily and that led to less control with approach shots. Scores climbed although Rickie Fowler made a big move through the field, up 20 to T7, with a best-of-the-day 65. That was one better than Dustin Johnson, Alex Noren and Brandon Stone – all winners in July.

 

Afternoon session:  Ian Poulter set a scorching pace with 62 on Thursday before sharing top spot on -11 with two others at the midpoint and the Englishman briefly opened up a three-shot lead as his rivals made mistakes with the course continuing to firm up. But it was Justin Thomas who came on strong, firing a 67 to take a three-shot lead over Rory McIlroy (67) and Poulter (70). A juicy Thomas-McIlroy R4 2-ball awaits Sunday. Tommy Fleetwood, the other co-leader at halfway, went backwards to T9 after a 74.

 

Leaderboard: -14 Justin Thomas, -11 Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter, -10 Jason Day, -9 Marc Leishman, Kyle Stanley, -8 Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm.

 

Notables: -7 Tommy Fleetwood, -6 Brooks Koepka, -4 Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, -3 Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, -2 Henrik Stenson, -1 Alex Noren, Hideki Matsuyama, +1 Jordan Spieth, +2 Francesco Molinari,

 

Revised outright betting: 4/6 Justin Thomas, 7/2 Rory McIlroy, 9/1 Ian Poulter, Jason Day, 33/1 Marc Leishman, 40/1 Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler.

 

 

Sunday weather forecast

 

Temperatures creep over the 90s in the afternoon so expect the course to dry out even further. Firestone’s revenge is set to go up a notch!

 

 

Leaders after 54 holes

 

Justin Thomas (67, 196) – Dropped two early shots and another at 15 but outpaced that trio with six red numbers. Currently ranks 1st for birdies (19) and SG: Approach The green (6.226). Also 5th for SG: Putting. He’s converted five of seven 54-hole leads on the PGA TOUR so will be hard to stop.

 

Rory McIlroy (67, 199) – There was a smoke-and-mirrors element to Rory’s 65-67 start and, on the face of it, today’s bogey-free 67 was much better. That said, he got up and down seven times out of seven and is first for Scrambling on the week. Of course, if everyone struggles tomorrow, that super-sharp short game could prove a huge asset.

 

Ian Poulter (70, 199) – Three clear early but couldn’t keep pace with Thomas and three back-nine bogeys were frustrating. Missed ten greens today after hitting 29 over the first 36 holes. Ranks 1st for SG: Putting on the week so still rates a danger.

 

 

Fate of the favourites

 

Dustin Johnson (66, 206) – Better from DJ after a subdued 69-71 first 36 holes. His bogey-free 66 was the joint-low round of the early wave. The difference? Simple really. Found more fairways, found more greens, got up and down more and made more putts.

 

Rory McIlroy (67, 199) – Two bogey-free rounds for Rory so far and he’s gone 26 holes without dropping a shot. “If I can just make a couple more birdies tomorrow and keep the bogeys off my card I shouldn’t be far away,” he said later.

 

Tiger Woods (73, 207) – A miserable day for Tiger with four bogeys against a single birdie. Hit just nine greens in regulation and negative numbers in all the main SG categories.

 

 

Quotes

 

Justin Thomas (67, 196): “I played well again today. My two bogeys on the par 3s were pretty bad so that was a bit upsetting. But I really fought and played well there in the middle of the round and made some birdies. The course definitely changed over the course of the round but everyone will have to deal with it tomorrow.”

 

Rory McIlroy (67, 199): “It felt good. I hit a few more fairways today which definitely helped, especially with the course getting a little bit firmer. When the course plays like that it makes the fairways play narrower so I drove the ball well and gave myself plenty of chances. I didn’t convert too many but I holed some good putts for pars.”

 

Rickie Fowler (65, 202): “The greens are still receptive as of right now but definitely firmer than where they have been the last two days. It’s nice to see the golf course kind of transitioning into that weekend kind of golf. Tomorrow by the afternoon, it’ll be a good test definitely come the back nine. I think you still have a chance around this golf course six or seven behind.”

 

 

Road to victory at Firestone CC

 

2017 Hideki Matsuyama – R1: 15th, R2: 3rd, R3: 4th

2016 Dustin Johnson – R1: 9th, R2: 22nd, R3: 5th

2015 Shane Lowry – R1: 22nd, R2: 2nd, R3: 3rd

2014 Rory McIlroy – R1: 14th, R2: 3rd, R3: 2nd

2013 Tiger Woods – R1: 3rd, R2: 1st, R3: 1st

 

Notes: Hunter Mahan is the only player in the last 20 years to have won from outside the top five after 54 holes. That really does narrow the field down if it plays out again. Even then, Mahan was only three back on a packed leaderboard and, despite Fowler’s quote above, no-one in the last 20 years has come from further back than four off the pace to win. On that stat, we only have four potential winners left – Thomas, McIlroy, Poulter and Day.

 

 

Fate of the third-round leaders at Firestone – where did they finish?

 

2017 Zach Johnson – 2nd, Thomas Pieters – 4th

2016 Scott Piercy – 2nd, Jason Day – 3rd

2015 Jim Furyk – 3rd, Justin Rose – 3rd

2014 Sergio Garcia – 2nd

2013 Tiger Woods – 1st

 

Notes: None of the last seven players to have had a piece of the lead after 54 holes have managed to convert so let’s not hand the trophy to Justin Thomas just yet. Surprise, surprise, the last man to bring it home was Tiger in 2013. Before that, Adam Scott (2011) and Vijay Singh (2008) managed to see it through but it means just three players out of the last 17 to have led after three rounds have gone on to lift the silverware.

 

 

Focus on – Rickie Fowler

 

Rickie Fowler has played two excellent rounds so far at Firestone this week. His Thursday 63 was only beaten by Ian Poulter’s superb 62 while today’s 65 was the low round of the day. Even something average in round two would have put him right next to the lead but the Californian slumped to a 4-over-74. An 11-shot difference between Thursday and Friday isn’t a good look. His explanation when asked today: “Believe it or not, swing-wise, it’s been pretty consistent in a way for the three days. This golf course is very good at picking apart players if you’re just a little bit off. If you’re driving it on a string, fairways, you’re gonna get a lot of birdie looks and if you’re making putts you can do what I did the first day. If you’re just missing fairways, not getting balls up and down, not making putts, 74 happens very quickly.” Sounds reasonable but…. take a look at this year’s U.S. Open. Fowler finished a decent-enough T20 but his round scores for the final 54 holes were 69-84-65. Conditions were obviously difficult on Saturday but a 19-shot gap between R3 and his closer?! What’s going on Rickie? Even when runner-up at Augusta National his Saturday 65 followed a 72 so the old adage about stringing four good rounds together applies to Fowler perhaps more than anyone (okay, Tommy Fleetwood has a similar problem to address) going into the PGA Championship. If Rickie wants to win a first major, he can’t keep falling asleep for 18 holes.

 

 

Focus on – Tiger Woods

 

It was probably his T12 at February’s Honda Classic when the doubters became believers again. Finishing runner-up at the Valspar made it surely a matter of time before Tiger would get another ‘W’ on the board and the smart money said it would come on one of his traditionally favorite courses – Bay Hill (seven-time champ), Augusta National (four-timer winner) or, if he qualified, Firestone CC (eight wins). It wasn’t quite to be at Bay Hill but T5 still fuelled the notion of ‘when not if’ although T32 at Augusta was admittedly underwhelming. Tiger continued his rebuild through May and June and all seemed to have come together at Carnoustie when he led on the back nine. Again, he fell short but the top six squeezed him into this week’s field and once again the sporting world readied itself for the big thunderclap moment. A 66-68 start put Tiger in the hunt but today his hopes fell apart. A 3-over 73 and a drop to T28. Time is running out for Woods securing his 80th PGA Tour win this year although perhaps we should give him one more big chance next week. Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson never won the PGA Championship but Tiger has landed the Wanamaker Trophy on four occasions. In 1999 and 2007 it was the only major he won after three blanks. Does he have it in him to pull off the same trick again or is this chase for No. 80 and No. 15 going to take longer than we think?



Dave Tindall is former golf editor at Sky Sports.com in the UK and has been writing betting previews for the European Tour since 1997. He can be reached via e-mail on tindall_david@hotmail.com and on Twitter @davetindallgolf.
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