The Associated Press AKRON, Ohio (AP) — 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 hole, leading to one of his three straight birdies to start the third round at the Bridgestone Invitational. Pieters needed another long shot — this one a 30-foot birdie putt that rammed into the back of the cup — to cap off a wild day with a 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 that 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.
Johnson now figures to get another front-row seat to the power game.
Pieters and Johnson were at 9-under 201 going into the final round, and it’s particularly meaningful for both of them.
Johnson hasn’t won since 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 awesome potential at the Ryder Cup last year, and now has his best chance to win in America since he captured the NCAA title at Riviera while playing for Illinois.
McIlroy had to settle for a 68 and left him three shots behind in pursuit of his first victory since the Tour Championship last year.
“I felt like I could have got a lot more out of it,” McIlroy said. “I think if I would have walked off today with a 65 or a 66, I would have felt that was a fair reflection of how I played. But only three behind going into tomorrow, I can get off to a fast start and try and put a bit of pressure on the guys up ahead of me.”
One shot out of the lead was Scott Hend of Australia, who got into his first Bridgestone Invitational on a loophole and posted a 63 even with two three-putt bogeys. 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, already with one World Golf Championship he won last fall in Shanghai, had a 67 and was two shots behind.