Only the very best golfers are invited to play in the World Golf Championship series and this week a field of just 78 take part in the WGC Bridgestone Invitational hosted at the South Course of Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. Its fabled length and large greens make it an ideal course for the big-hitters but length-off-the-tee alone won’t bring success. Taming this course also requires accuracy from tee and fairway and a great putting stroke. Previous event form is a good indicator of success as the course and conditions tend to play consistently year on year.
The par-5 16th hole – the longest on tour – is a mere 667yards but was still down the stroke-index last year. The warm forecast conditions should make the fairways firm and increase the carry and roll so even this monster hole will be birdie-able.
In a small field, my long-list consists of players with strong ranking in total driving, GIR%, proximity to pin, bogey-avoidance, birdie average, strokes gained putting, and past course form.
When it comes to past form, you can include one name in permanent-marker: Tiger Woods has won seven titles here and is back in winning form. His driving remains a worry, but at least a missed fairway here isn’t overly punitive.
Assuming he’s over another failed Major attempt, Lee Westwood could have another good week at Firestone. He’s enjoyed 3 top-10s in his last four starts here and right at the top if driving accuracy and greens hit. However, as always, his putting isn’t quite as good as the best.
Last year’s champion Adam Scott will be a warm order following his performance at the British Open and he’s the type to have put that final round collapse behind him and bounce back here. The course is perfect for his game which is in great nick. Australians feel at home on this course and have a good record in this event, and Scott is the most likely player to continue that run. His compatriot Jason Day is having a quiet season but has posted three top10s including tied 8th last time out at the At&T National. It’s risky to pick a player in mixed form who hasn’t played for a few weeks, but this course could just be the springboard Day needs going into the second half of the season.
A tie for second last year for Luke Donald proves that this course isn’t all about bombing it 340yds off the tee. Donald is a model of consistency – another top-5 at The Open – and one of the very best inside 170yards and a solid putter.
Of course when one talks of big hitters, one can’t omit Bubba Watson, Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson. Bubba is currently atop the GIR rankings and just outside top-10 on total driving stats and was tied for 2nd last year. Keegan has been a little up and down this year but this course is just the type he flourishes playing. Fowler was tied second last year and with the Ryder Cup just a month away, he knows this could be his last opportunity to post a high finish and claim a Captain’s wild card berth. Dustin Johnson is red hot with the flat stick right now and although he’s down on the GIR figures, these generous greens will take less hitting for a player who hits the ball a long way with driver and iron.
One player who caught my eye at The Open was Zach Johnson. He’s already notched up two wins on tour this year and is a model of consistency. He rarely folds under pressure and is officially teh best putter on tour so far this season.
Bo Van Pelt is in good form demonstrated by his tie for 7th at the Canadian Open last week. He is top-5 for total driving and a great profile fit on GIR and Putting stats. Secured his seventh top-10 of the season with a T7 at the RBC Canadian Open. Finished third here in 2010 so we know he can feature at Firestone.
Of the European contingent not resident on the USPGA tour, I like the look of Francesco Molinari and Nicolas Colsaerts. The latter has played four PGA tour events, made all four cuts and posted 2 top-25 finishes. He is long off the tee and has a solid short game – the challenge will be adjusting to the fast greens. A pair of 65s at The Open underline his quality. Molinari is having a fantastic season and finished T13th at Cadillac, 19th at Masters and 29ths at US Open. If anything, he’s improved since and has a shout in this reduced field.
Hunter Mahan completes the long list. Although a little hit and miss of late, he has the best total driving/GIR combination in the field and it’s hard to omit a guy who has made 16 of 17 cuts and then converted those into 11 top-25 finishes including 4 top-10s and 2 wins.
As always the final analysis is available odds. Although he’s the most likely winner, at cramped odds of 5/1 I can’t invest in Tiger Woods this week. Instead, the following picks make up the staking plan:
- Adam Scott – 1pt e/w @ 18/1
- Hunter Mahan – 1pt e/w @ 28/1
- Zach Johnson – 1.5pts e/w @ 30/1
- Bubba Watson – 1pt e/w @ 35/1
- Bo Van Pelt – 1pt e/w @ 40/1