Zach Johnson looks forward to his return in Akron
British Open champion says he enjoys what Firestone course demands of players
Troy Merritt plays a shot during a practice round for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. Photograph: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Johnson claimed his second major title by defeating Louis Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman in a play-off at St Andrews last month, despite previously stating the Old Course was his least favourite on the Open rotation.
The 39-year-old also said he dislikes the “contrived” US PGA venue of Whistling Straits, but is a big fan of Firestone Country Club, a venue where he was sixth in 2011 and fourth in 2013.
“I love the golf course,” Johnson told a pre-tournament press conference. “I don’t like to label or place or prioritise courses, but this is way up there for me.
“I love what this course demands. I think you’ve got to hit it straight. There’s a lot of tee shots into the fairways that are not flat so you’ve got to kind of angle it in there. The driver is important here. I like that.
“But all that said, I just thoroughly enjoy what this course demands and how it needs to be played. I think we’ve seen guys that kill it one year, and we’ve seen guys that kind of plot their way around, Jim Furyk and that kind, that can do well. So I think it separates the field nicely at the end of the week.”
Forty eight of the world’s top 50 players are in the 78-strong field, with just defending champion Rory McIlroy and American Chris Kirk absent due to injury.
McIlroy has not played since suffering an ankle ligament injury playing football with friends on July 4th and also missed out on the defence of his Open title at St Andrews.
The 26-year-old will be replaced as world number one by Jordan Spieth if the Masters and US Open champion can claim his first World Golf Championship title on Sunday, although the 22-year-old has precious little experience of the course.
Failed to qualify
Tiger Woods won his last PGA Tour title to date and 79th of his career by seven shots in the Bridgestone Invitational in 2013, but the eight-time winner is currently ranked 262nd in the world and has failed to qualify for the first time since the event started in 1999.
South Korean An Byeong-hun relishes the prospect of trying to eclipse his parents by winning gold in Rio de Janeiro when golf returns to the Olympics next August after an absence of more than 100 years.
An is the son of two Olympic table-tennis medallists. His mother, Jiao Zhimin, won silver (doubles) and bronze (singles) for China at the 1988 Games where his father, Ahn Jae-hyung (doubles), took bronze for Korea.
The couple were dating at the time, according to An, who jests that he would never have been conceived had it not been for those Summer Games staged in Seoul.
“I’m really looking forward to next year,” An, 23, said during a news conference at Firestone Country Club yesterday.
“After I heard the announcement that golf will be in the Olympics, I was like, ‘Okay, then let’s try to make the Korean team.’”