AKRON — Jordan Spieth gets to play with Zach Johnson one tournament too late.
When last seen on the golf course, Spieth missed out on a three-man playoff at the British Open that ended his bid for a Grand Slam. He came back out and watched from the steps of the Royal & Ancient clubhouse at St. Andrews as Johnson, a good friend, won the claret jug.
The only players to win majors this year will be paired Thursday when the Bridgestone Invitational begins at Firestone.
The World Golf Championship event offers big money, free FedEx Cup points and for some of the 77 players in the field, a chance to make sure their games are in shape for the PGA Championship the following week in Wisconsin.
Spieth and Johnson are coming off three-week breaks, both taking time off to celebrate after getting back from St. Andrews.
Johnson hasn’t let the silver claret jug out of his sight, though golf’s oldest trophy has been put to good use.
“We’ve had wine in there. We’ve had champagne in there, obviously some beer in there and that kind of stuff,” he said. “My kids drank water out of it. They thought that was pretty cool. I did have a corn on the cob in it.”
Corn on the cob? Indeed, he posted a photo on Twitter over the weekend of a corn cob in the jug as he pretends to take a bite. He figured it was only fitting since Johnson still sees himself as a regular guy from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
“I did have a corn on the cob in it. I did not eat the corn on the cob out of it,” Johnson said Tuesday. “It was just a picture because I am from the state of Iowa. … I thought it would be a cool little picture, and I’m telling you, the Iowa folk, the Midwest folk in general, thought it was pretty awesome.”
Spieth’s celebration was more personal. He turned 22 last week.
It’s a peculiar friendship if it were based strictly on age. Johnson’s wife reminded him recently that at 39, the two-time major champion is nearly old enough to be Spieth’s father. They spent time together late in 2013 during Spieth’s rookie season and have a few friends in the same circle that keep them connected.
Spieth surprised Johnson by living up to his word even as his fame grew. He had told Johnson after winning the Masters that he would take part in his charity event ahead of the John Deere Classic. And then he won the U.S. Open that put him halfway home to the Grand Slam. Spieth still showed up at the charity event, and the John Deere Classic, which he won for his fourth title this year.
“What he did, and honoring his commitment, is beyond classy and just goes to show once again how much he truly gets it,” Johnson said. “He didn’t have to do it, but maybe he thought it was in his best interests, too.”
The Bridgestone Invitational will be missing its defending champion for the first time since 2008 when Tiger Woods was recuperating from knee surgery. Rory McIlroy won last year during his summer trifecta — British Open, Bridgestone, PGA Championship — but he still is recovering from an ankle injury he suffered playing soccer in Northern Ireland and has not determined if he can even play at Whistling Straits next week.
Woods won’t be around either, missing for the first time because he wasn’t eligible. The field is for the top 50 in the world (Woods is No. 262), members of the last Ryder Cup team (he wasn’t on it) and winners of top events from tours around the world. Woods hasn’t won in two years dating to his eighth career victory at Firestone.
“You win the bloody tournament eight times, you probably should … oh man, it’s tough,” Day said about Woods’ absence. “It’s something that we have to earn our spots in these tournaments. Unfortunately, right now he’s going through a spell where he’s not playing that great. For him, he never had to think about it because he was No. 1 for so long, it was just part of his schedule.
“Someday I’m going to go through the exact same thing where I have to somehow earn my way back into this tournament, but I’m hoping it’s a long way away from now.”