Tiger Woods made three bogeys in the first round at the Bridgestone Invitational, and followed each of them with a birdie on the next hole. (Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)
Akron, Ohio — Dustin Johnson is taking a leave of absence from golf to seek help for “personal challenges,” a swift end to his season that will keep him from playing the PGA Championship, the FedEx Cup playoffs and the Ryder Cup.
In a statement Thursday from Hambric Sports Management, Johnson, 30, said his leave of absence was effective immediately. The statement did not indicate how long he would be out, though agent David Winkle told PGA of America officials he would not be at the PGA Championship next week or the Ryder Cup at the end of September.
“I will use this time to seek professional help for personal challenges I have faced,” Johnson said. “By committing the time and resources necessary to improve my mental health, physical well-being and emotional foundation, I am confident that I will be better equipped to fulfill my potential and become a consistent champion.”
He asked for privacy “as I embark upon this mission of self-improvement.”
Johnson, who tied for fourth in the U.S. Open and tied for 12th in the British Open, was No. 5 in the Ryder Cup standings and virtually certain to earn one of nine automatic spots when qualifying ends next week at the PGA Championship.
As long as he stays in the top nine, he will be replaced by the next player in the standings.
“We will certainly miss Dustin Johnson at Gleneagles, and we wish him the best,” U.S. captain Tom Watson said. “As one of the longest hitters in the game with an undefeated record of 3-0 at Medinah in 2012, he has clearly been an asset for the United States team. That said, the United States is a team with an abundance of talent.”
Johnson was replaced in the PGA Championship by Jerry Kelly. Pat Perez is now the first alternate, and will get into the PGA provided the Bridgestone Invitational winner is already eligible.
Johnson won the HSBC Champions in Shanghai last October at the start of the PGA Tour’s wraparound season. He has seven top 10s this year on the PGA Tour and was at No. 4 in the FedEx Cup standings. He will not be replaced in the 125-man field at The Barclays when the FedEx Cup playoffs begin Aug. 21.
It’s the second time in two years that Johnson has missed a major under curious circumstances.
He pulled out of the Masters in 2012, saying that he tweaked his back while lifting a jet ski. He wound up missing three months, and won in his second tournament back.
Johnson played in the final group in the third round of the British Open with Rory McIlroy, fading with a 71-72 weekend and tying for 12th. He missed the cut the following week at the RBC Canadian Open, and then withdrew from the World Golf Championship at Firestone.
The PGA Tour, which does not comment on disciplinary action, offered little in a statement.
“We have nothing to add to Dustin’s statement, but we wish him well and look forward to his return to the PGA Tour in the future,” the tour said.
Johnson is No. 16 in the world ranking with eight PGA Tour victories. He is the first player since Tiger Woods to go from college to winning in each of his first seven seasons on the PGA Tour. He lost a three-shot lead in the final round of the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, closing with an 82. Later that year, he was assessed a two-shot penalty on the final hole of the PGA Championship for grounding his club in a patch of sand, not realizing it was a bunker at Whistling Straits.
Johnson last year got engaged to Paulina Gretzky, the daughter of NHL great Wayne Gretzky.
Tiger Woods showed signs of a positive recovery at the Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio.
Not just from back surgery, but from making bogeys.
Woods bounced back with birdies all three times that he made mistakes, opening with a 2-under 68 on a soft, gentle day for scoring at Firestone.
It left him four shots behind Marc Leishman, and hopeful that this time he can build on a solid start.
Woods opened with a 69 at the British Open two weeks ago, only to plunge down the leaderboard the rest of the week at Royal Liverpool.
“I hit a lot of good shots,” Woods said. “I dropped shots at three holes out there (in the first round and) got it right back on the very next hole.”
For so many players, the opening round of this World Golf Championship felt like either a warmup or an audition for bigger events to follow. Ryan Moore was among three players at 65, a good start for someone looking for one big week to get him on the Ryder Cup team.
Two more Ryder Cup hopefuls — Patrick Reed and Francesco Molinari — were among those another shot back.
British Open champion Rory McIlroy, who next week will chase his second straight major, was among the leaders until not paying attention to packed sand in a bunker that sent him to a double bogey late in his round. He still wound up with a 69.
Leishman has quietly gone about his work in reasonable form, with top 10s recently at Congressional and Royal Liverpool. He had the perfect formula for Firestone, a big golf course where good scores are available by keeping the ball in play.
“I drove the ball well. It makes this course a lot easier when you’re on the fairway,” Leishman said. “It’s pretty tough when you’re playing from the rough. Then, I hit my irons really well and was rolling the ball awesome. So it’s a pretty good combination for a tough golf course like this, something I can hopefully keep going.”
Woods said only a mild breeze and soft conditions from overnight rain allowed for scoring, though he noted that no one went terribly low. The 64 by Leishman seemed like a good score, so maybe Woods was basing that on his own experience at a course where he has won eight times.
Woods twice has shot his career-best 61 at Firestone, including last year on his way to a seven-shot victory. That he managed six birdies was a sign that he was making putts, even though two of his birdies were tap-ins.
He still had a few wild moments, starting with a three-putt bogey from 10 feet on the opening hole. He hooked his drive so badly on the par-5 second hole that he worried it might not clear the lake on the adjacent third hole. It was far enough left to leave him a good angle with a 5-wood that he put on the green for a two-putt birdie.
His only big mistake was a shot into the trees on the ninth hole. It took him two shots to get out, and from behind the green he couldn’t get up-and-down and made double bogey. Just like two other bogeys in his round, he answered with a birdie with a shot into 6 feet on No. 10.
“I feel like I made some progress,” Woods said. “As I said, this is only my seventh round back. So it’s just going to take a little time. I’m starting to get in the flow of things. If you look at my iron shots into the holes today, a majority of them were pin-high. So I’m starting to get the feel back in my hands and get my trajectory under control.”
Woods missed three months following back surgery, and the six rounds he has played since returning have not been inspiring, except for that opening round at Hoylake. He needs more rounds like that to remind Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson he would be worth selecting, and to try to extend his season beyond the PGA Championship next week by moving up 90 spots in the FedEx Cup standings to qualify for the playoffs.
Phil Mickelson’s biggest struggle was with his health. He didn’t arrive in Ohio until Wednesday night because of strep throat, and he opened with a 71.
McIlroy appeared to pick up where he left off in England. He wasn’t expecting a hangover from winning his third major and didn’t experience one except for his mistake from the bunker on the eighth hole.
“There’s still so much to play for,” he said. “No. 1 spot is up for grabs. Trying to get myself as far up the FedEx Cup points as possible. I haven’t won a World Golf Championship before. Got another major coming up next week. It hasn’t been that hard for me to refocus and get back to work.”
Nick Watney held the lead with an 18, two points ahead of Geoff Ogilvy and Tim Wilkinson at the Barracuda Championship at Reno, Nev.
The event uses the modified Stableford scoring system which awards five points for an eagle, two for a birdie, and deducts one for a bogey and three for double bogey or worse.
Doug LaBelle II (Mount Pleasant) shot an 11, Justin Hicks (Grosse Ile) a 9 and Brian Stuard (Oakland University) a 4.