New major winner Johnson back in action at Bridgestone

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The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational gets underway on Thursday, with all eyes on golf's latest major champion Dustin Johnson and world number one Jason Day.

After so many near-misses, Johnson finally added his name among the game's elite by winning the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club.

Johnson's 10th PGA Tour title elevated him up to third in the golf rankings and it will now be interesting to see how the American handles the weight of expectations at the third World Golf Championships event of the year, this time in Akron, Ohio.

The 61-man field features just 41 of the top 50 in the golf rankings, with four-time major champion Rory McIlroy among several European players opting to take part at the Open de France. Masters winner Danny Willett is also absent.

However, the field is still strong with world number one Jason Day and Jordan Spieth bidding to win the tournament for the first time.

Day, who has withdrawn from the Olympics, finished tied for eighth at the U.S. Open and the Australian star heads into the event looking fresh following a week off.

Adam Scott - the 2011 winner - and Phil Mickelson will also feature, while William McGirt and Jim Herman are among eight players making their WGC bows.


MAIDEN WINNERS JOHNSON, HURLEY III BACK IN ACTION

Johnson and Hurley take to the course as breakthrough winners for the first time. While he already had nine PGA Tour titles to his name, Johnson won his first major via the U.S. Open. After 11 top-10 finishes, the 32-year-old eased to a three-stroke win at Oakmont. And he has been grouped with Spieth and Justin Rose in Akron. As for Hurley, he claimed his maiden Tour title at last week's Quicken Loans National. Hurley had never finished better than fourth at a tournament, but that all changed in his 104th start at his hometown Congressional Country Club.


FIRESTONE TO PROVIDE ANOTHER CHALLENGE

After navigating the notoriously challenging Oakmont Country Club, it does not get any easier for the select few at Firestone. The intimating South Course - a par-70 measured at 7,283 yards - features challenges with its long par-four holes. There is also a mammoth par-five, the 16th hole which is 667 yards in length, with the neighbouring woods an added test for the field. In terms of the weather, it should be clear for the tournament, with late thunderstorms on Friday the only looming issue.


SPIETH SEEKING RETURN TO FORM AS KOEPKA, FURYK LOOM LARGE

Spieth was never really in the mix at the U.S. Open. The two-time major winner was nine over following his final-round 75 as Johnson romped to victory. It all fell apart for Spieth on the final day, after holing a triple bogey and four bogeys. Fellow Americans Brooks Koepka and Jim Furyk have done everything except win the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Koepka, who finished second at the St Jude Classic and AT&T Byron Nelson, was tied for sixth last year. Furyk, meanwhile, has 10 top-10 finishes to his name at Firestone.


LOWRY RETURNS TO THE SCENE OF HIS GREATEST TRIUMPH

Lowry came so close to winning his first major tournament at Oakmont - tied for second - but it all started at Firestone for the Irishman. Lowry held off three major champions to clinch the biggest victory of his career. The 29-year-old was two shots adrift at the start of the final round before rallying to card a four-under-par 66 for a two-stroke triumph ahead of Bubba Watson, with Furyk and Rose further adrift.


ACE POTENTIAL IN AKRON?

There have been a total of eight aces in the history of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Furyk was the last to do so at the fifth hole in 2011, while he also aced the 15th hole in 2006. Yusaku Miyazato was the first modern-era golfer to post two holes-in-one during the same round on the second day in 2006.


DAY CONFIDENT, HURLEY'S WHIRLWIND ADVENTURE CONTINUES

"With previous experience here being close to winning and knowing what I need to do to win, I feel confident about my game. I feel good about where my game is at. I've had a good week off, and I've practiced pretty hard, prepped very well coming into this week, and I feel very rested physically but more so mentally," Day told reporters on Tuesday.

A week on from his breakthrough win at the Quicken Loans National, Hurley is back among a star-studded field: "I think we've just tried to enjoy it a little bit as much as we could, but I mean, by the time I got home Sunday night, because I live around D.C, so we got home, and doing laundry and re-packing kids and that kind of stuff, I mean, on the road and getting up this way. Not completely sunk in yet, but it's starting to."