WGC-Bridgestone Invitational Preview

08-01-17

Most of the world’s best are in Akron, Ohio, this week for the final WGC event of the year.

Firestone South has hosted 18 of the last 19 WGC-BI and is loved by the big players.

Find out why below!

 

World Golf Championship

Bridgestone Invitational

Firestone Country Club

South Course

Akron, Ohio

 

Yards: 7,400 per the official scorecard;

Par: 70 (35-37);

Course Architect(s): Bert Way (1928); Robert Trent Jones (1960).

Greens: Pencross Bentgrass, Poa annua running 14′; 7,600 square feet on average.

Rough: Kentucky bluegrass, perennial rye grass approaching four inches and up.

Bunkers: 82

Water Hazards: 3

Purse: $9.75 million; $1.66 million (winner) plus 550 FEC points.

Defending Champion:  Dustin Johnson posted the highest winning total since 2008 when Tiger Woods was the only player under par at eight-under as he defeated Scotty Piercy (DNQ) by one shot.

Notes: 77 players qualified and only Martin Kaymer (shoulder injury) isn’t playing.

Notes II: No-cut event; 72-holes, stroke-play; final WGC event of the season.

 

2016-17 PGA Tour Winners

Frys.com: Brendan Steele,

CIMB: Justin Thomas

WGC-HSBC: Hideki Matsuyama

Sanderson Farms: Cody Gribble**

Shriners: Rod Pampling

OHL Mayakoba: Pat Perez

RSM Classic: Mackenzie Hughes**

SBS TOC: Justin Thomas

Sony Open: Justin Thomas

CB Challenge: Hudson Swafford*

Farmers: Jon Rahm*

WMPO: Hideki Matsuyama

AT&T Pebble Beach: Jordan Spieth

Genesis Open: Dustin Johnson

Honda: Rickie Fowler

WGC-MC: Dustin Johnson

Valspar: Adam Hadwin*

Arnold Palmer: Marc Leishman

WGC-Match Play: Dustin Johnson

Shell Houston Open: Russell Henley

Masters: Sergio Garcia

RBC Heritage: Wesley Bryan**

Valero Texas Open: Kevin Chappell*

Zurich Classic: Cameron Smith* & Jonas Blixt

Wells Fargo Championship: Brian Harman

THE PLAYERS: Si Woo Kim

AT&T Byron Nelson: Billy Horschel

Colonial: Kevin Kisner

Memorial: Jason Dufner

FESJC: Daniel Berger

U.S. Open: Brooks Koepka

Travelers: Jordan Spieth

QLN: Kyle Stanley

Greenbrier: Xander Schauffele**

John Deere Classic: Bryson DeChambeau**

The Open Championship: Jordan Spieth

RBC Canadian: Jhonattan Vegas

 

*-First-time winner

**-First-time winner AND rookie winner

 

Recent Winners

Firestone South has hosted this event every year with the exception of 2002 which was hosted at Sahalee Country Club outside Seattle.

2016: Dustin Johnson, -6

2015: Shane Lowry, -11*

2014: Rory McIlroy, -15

2013: Tiger Woods, -13*

2012: Keegan Bradley, -13*

2011: Adam Scott, -17

2010: Hunter Mahan, -12*

* – not playing this week

 

The Particulars:

Built in the mid-1920’s and redone in the early 1960’s, Firestone South has stood the test of time from a design standpoint and there are multiple reasons the pros love stopping here.

The parkland design sits right in front of them with very few blind shots or optical illusions. Pick a line, hit it and find it. They also know exactly what’s required: Keeping the ball out of the foliage just off the fairways and finding the large greens in regulations. The grind this week is executing the shot as opposed to mapping the route or developing a game plan.

Course history is highly important this week, Shane Lowry be damned, as the changes here over the years to this classic design have only been cosmetic. Knowing where to miss off the tee and into the greens will help keep bogeys off the card. There are risk-reward holes that will ask a few questions. Maps of the lightning-quick putting surfaces will also come in handy.

Firestone South has only two par fives on the card. Of those pair of par fives some will argue that only one of the two will provide a scoring chance. The 16th sits at 667 yards and doesn’t guarantee a birdie chance as it is usually a three-shot hole. The opposite can be said for No. 2 which only plays 525 yards and is a must-birdie hole as it plays as one of the easiest on Tour.

Dustin Johnson led the field with 16 birdies last year so bogey avoidance and grinding pars might be even more important. I’m looking at guys who play difficult courses well and can score on the par fours and par threes.

 

Course Ratings:

2016: Second-hardest par 70; seventh overall; +1.451.

2015: Second-hardest par 70; eighth overall; 0.968.

2014: 18th-hardest; +0.389.

2013: Second-hardest par 70; ninth overall; +1.051.

2012: 16th; +.695

2011: 18th; +.174

2010: 15th; +.556

 

Weather:

Last year, when the event was held in June due to the impending Olympic Games, Johnson’s winning total matched the highest in history. The course was fast and firm and the wind howled for most of the week.

This year it returns to its normal place on the calendar and the course has had an extra month to dry out. In July, Akron took only 1.53 inches of rain of the 3.87 it averages annually. But that could change rapidly as Mother Nature will have an influence on the proceedings as thunderstorms hit the forecast on Wednesday (60%) and run through Thursday (90%) and Friday (90%).

The weekend will be unseasonably cool and cloudy with temperatures in the mid-to-upper 70’s with only a slight chance of rain. The absence of sunshine should make the course play wet and longer and that should make the power players smile.

 

Facts and Figures:

 

·       Missing from the OWGR Top 50 this week: Brandt Snedeker, No. 36 (injured, see below).

  • 19th edition of this event and 18th at Firestone South.
  • Tiger Woods has won eight of the 17 previous tournaments at Firestone South.
  • Of the 17 winners, 15 have been major champions. Only Hunter Mahan and Shane Lowry have not won.
  • There are 18 players who have won a WGC event and a major. Johnson and Stenson joined this club after their major victories last year.
  • Of the last seven winners, four are NOT in the field this week. #Meritocracy.
  • Of the last seven winners, five are major champions.
  • Johnson has won three of the last four WGC events.
  • Only Johnson (5) and Geoff Ogilvy (3) have won more than two WGC events.
  • Multiple event winners in the field: none.
  • Multiple WGC winners in the field: Johnson (5), Adam Scott (2), Jason Day (2), Rory McIlroy (2) and Phil Mickelson (2).
  • Last to defend: Woods.
  • First-time winner, Tour: Lowry.
  • Tournament record: 259, Tiger Woods, 2000.
  • Course record: 61, Sergio Garcia, last player of three to do so (2014).

 

The Field

 

Favorites

In order of preference for this week and tournament only. Rankings vary week-to-week based on event, course, life, etc.

Jordan Spieth: No caddy issues. No form issues (win, win). He’s gaining on it each time he plays here (49th, T-10 and T-3). I also enjoy the fact that the moment is rarely, if ever, too big for him and winning three in a row is a challenge, not a road block.

Dustin Johnson: If weather and a difficult track are two of the major obstacles this week, I’m leaning on a guy who embraces those conditions. The longer and nastier will highlight his skill sets even better and a top 10 last week suggests he’s moving in the right direction. Firm and fast or long and sloppy, his game tends to transcend all of it.

Rickie Fowler: Of his last 12 rounds here, six have been 67, including the final round the last three years. Those three finishes have seen him post a top 10 each time which seems to be the norm these days for him on Tour. Wicked short game will never hurt around Firestone South.

Brooks Koepka: The U.S. Open champ backed up his first major with another major finish, T-6 at Royal Birkdale. He possesses plenty of power to shorten this track and it’s obvious he’s a quick study as he finished T-6 in his maiden voyage in 2015 with all four rounds in the red.

Matt Kuchar: I would have been more concerned last week if his post-first round symptoms led to a WD. He’s a RBC sponsor and toughed it suggesting he should be fine for a proper bounce-back this week in Akron. He’s finished over par once here in the last seven years resulting in his worst finish in that time, T-27. He also has four top 12’s during that stretch including T-3 last year. As usual, he’ll enjoy being lost in the shuffle.

Rory McIlroy: So much for all of the rhetoric from Royal Birkdale that suggested J.P. Fitzgerald was the architect behind McIlroy’s jump to form. He was sacked on Monday. Savvy gamers will point out that the former world No. 1 had his worst day of the event during the easiest conditions and that was the reason he wasn’t a factor on Sunday at The Open. The 2014 champ returns for the first time in three seasons (DNS last year, injured 2015) to “defend” before heading to Quail Hollow, another track where he’s feasted over the years, to look to pick up his third PGA title.

Jason Day: Ohio golf hasn’t always been kind to the Columbus resident but he found some magic down I-75 at MVGC in June and will look add to his T-3 last year. His high ball flight reminds some of another guy who seemed to do well around these parts and it’s no secret Day prefers the difficult to the easy. 7,400 yards of par 70 qualifies as the former.

Henrik Stenson: The “new” version of Stenson (post 2010) is 17-under in his last three visits with a pair of top 10’s and a pair of T-6 or better to show for the efforts. If chopping wood tee-to-green is the most difficult part of this week, I’ll lean on the Swede who thrives with power and accuracy.

Justin Rose: If I’m leaning on course-form this week, the Englishman slides in easily as he’s making start No. 13 at Firestone South. He’s cashed in the top five in three of his last five and found some positive closing 69-70 at Royal Birkdale, his best two consecutive rounds since finishing second at Augusta.

Hideki Matsuyama: I’m more concerned with why Matsuyama hasn’t fired on this layout in four previous tries. We all know he’s long and finds plenty of GIR but he’s been known to run out of gas this time of year. He should be well rested as his last two events have been the last two majors.

Marc Leishman: He sits eight in SG: Total and closed with a furious, bogey-free 65 his last time out at The Open. His run of seven weekends in a row consists of five T-17 or better including his last three, both top 10’s. If there’s wind and rain, I’m moving him up the list. This is a recording.

Rafael Cabrera-Bello: It’s hard to ignore a guy who hits this many GIR and has a win and T-4 in his last two worldwide. Some Euros, rightfully so, are knocked as their games don’t always translate on the Tour courses. Don’t forget he was T-4 at a very demanding PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP and a less-than-easy TPC Southwind. He opened 66-65 here in 2012, his first visit, before fading (77-73) on the weekend.

Jon Rahm: His favorite club in the bag is his driver. It’s going to make-or-break his plans for the week. He’s won on the links of Ireland and on the monster that is Torrey Pines. Don’t forget he also finished runner-up at Colonial, another course that’s hard to “fake it” around. He plays classic tracks well because he keeps it in play and paints GIR. This will be another week that tests his patience but T-10 and a win before T-44 at Royal Birkdale suggests he’s figured that part of the game out as well.

Paul Casey: Gamers, I KNOW HE DOESN’T WIN. I GET IT. I get that he hasn’t finished worse than 26th in his last eight world-wide events and six of those are T-12 or better. He’s the perfect complement/wingman in any format almost weekly. I’ll let you know when it’s time to abandon ship, promise!

Branden Grace: He shot 62 in a major, the only man to do so, as he finished T-6 at The Open. That backed up his T-15 at Dundonald the week before suggesting that his month off after the U.S. Open recharged his battery. He’s improved the last three summers in Ohio and has posted two rounds each year in the 60’s. He’s another that demanding fairways and greens will help move up the leaderboard.

 

Supporting Cast

Just missed and should make excellent support staff for deeper games/tickets.

Charl Schwartzel: This course historian has logged eight events and two of the last three are top 10’s. He’s posted rounds of 63, 64 and 65 and 13 of his last 20 rounds are par or better.

Tommy Fleetwood: For me, I thought he really showed his class the last three rounds at Royal Birkdale as he posted 69-66-70 after his first round dud of 76. That’s a very solid recovery in front of plenty of friends and family who were supporting the hometown lad in a massive tournament. Before The Open he cashed fourth, T-6, WIN and T-10 and that confidence is going anywhere. He’ll prefer a tough week as well as he makes all of his money tee-to-green.

Adam Scott: I’m trying not to game angrily here but I’ve been hung out to dry the last two times he’s been in my favorites. Yeah, I know he’s won here. Yeah, I know his caddy has won here NOYNE (or so) times. Yeah I know he’s hit the top 10 in two of the last three years. Yeah, I know…

Francesco Molinari: His ball-striking and SG numbers are too good to ignore. If I’m leaning on fairways this week, he ranks No. 7 on Tour and the above-average green complexes should help him find plenty of chances to two-putt. He fares well at THE PLAYERS and that’s not an easy place to hit fairways either. Somebody whisper in his ear that he’s playing Sawgrass this week!

Kevin Chappell: Easy to connect the dots here as he was T-3 in his maiden voyage last year and T-8 last week in Canada. His other top 10’s this season are at the Masters, TPC Southwind and a victory at TPC San Antonio in less-than-stellar conditions.

Gary Woodland: Gamers who are stat driven probably spend more time scratching their heads than collecting checks when it comes to Woodland. His major ball-striking numbers all fall within the top 30 on Tour. Like most of you, I’m going to piggy-back his T-4 last week in Canada as the breakthrough tournament to kick off his run up the ladder into the FEC Playoffs.

Jason Dufner: After finding the top 10 in his first two tries, the NE Ohio native hasn’t found a round under par in his last eight rounds at Firestone South. The last time he was in Ohio he won at Memorial and his last time out he closed at Royal Birkdale 66-68.

Zach Johnson: OK, he has my attention. After omitting him on one of his favorite tracks, TPC Deere Run, he obviously had a very solid week. I thought it was a false positive after he opened with 75 at Royal Birkdale but the 66-71-66 close for T-14 is asking more questions. He hits too many fairways and will be playing this event for the 14th consecutive season.

Daniel Berger: With three top fives, including a win, in his last five, his addition is easy to follow. Some would argue he should be higher up the list but with the conditions, I have some pause. He checks in 10th in SG: Total and 29th Tee-to-Green so I’m hardly stretching here.

Charley Hoffman: Astute gamers will point out he’s 0-4 now with the 54-hole lead after losing in a playoff last week. I’ll point out he has three top 10’s from his last five. I’m not expecting Hoffman to win but rather fill that supporting role. In his last five events he’s posted two rounds over par, both at Royal Birkdale. I’m riding his career year.

Brian Harman: His only round over 71 in his last 14 was 78 at Royal Birkdale that sent him home early. His T-2 on a 7,800 yard U.S. Open course moved him up the list.

Justin Thomas: He’s MC three in a row but the law of averages should work out at some point. He crushes it off the tee and finds plenty of GIR. Don’t forget he’s second in par four scoring and 18th in par threes.

Alex Noren: He’s won or hit the top 15 in four of his last six. The other two have seen him pack it in early. The streak would suggest MC this week but since there’s no cut, he gets a look!

Kevin Kisner: “Fowler-lite” is going to find the sprinkler line and plenty of GIR this week. He’s in the top 50 in all major SG categories and sits sixth in Total.

 

Range Jockeys

Long shots, no-names with names, trending, event jockeys and everyone else with a few warts.

Xander Schauffele: His last five events have seen him claim his first win on Tour, a top five at his first U.S. Open and a T-20 at his first Open Championship. That’s enough for me.

Kyle Stanley: He wasn’t intimidated on his first and only trip here in 2012 as he laced three rounds in the 60’s and finished T-16.

Andy Sullivan: The Englishman has been playing too well for too long to be overlooked even though it’s his first venture. Stanley proved that it’s not complete deal breaker. His last three trips to the Western Hemisphere saw him post T-20 at Mexico City, T-15 at SHO and T-48 at the Masters.

Satoshi Kodaira: He’s rattled off 15 cuts made in a row on the Japan Tour and eight of those have resulted in top 10’s. Hot form is hot form and he’s finished T-6 or better in three of his last five.

Chris Wood: Usually off the radar unless it’s The Open Championship, the English ball-striker might deserve a look this week as well. His only other trip to Akron was 2013 where he carded rounds of 66-68-70-71 proving that elite putting is NOT a requirement this week. The other good news is whatever caused WD-MC is no longer bothering him after T-14 at Royal Birkdale.

Brendan Steele: I’ve been burned a couple of times here recently with him in big events and I’m aware. I’m also aware that he opened with 69 and closed with 66 in his only appearance here. It’s the other two rounds (74-76) that keep him down here…

Bryson DeChambeau: T-26 or better including his last win in his last five events. I’m not holding MC against him in his first Open Championship. He was T-15 at Oakmont and that works for me in the “tough course” department.

Mackenzie Hughes: I wasn’t surprised he was the highest finishing Canadian last week as his excellent season continues to roll on. #NappyFactor has produced five straight weekends where he’s played. I’d point out he played college golf in the area at Kent State but you sharks already knew that. He’s a super putter and big greens will help his chances for a top 25 this week.

 

Fades:

Not this week

Sergio Garcia: He was married on Saturday night. NOBODY takes their honeymoon in Akron unless they’re going to eat every night at the New Era. A no-cut event might suck in a few but I’m letting him enjoy his nuptials. He’ll be back in the favorites next week at Quail Hollow, probably.

Phil Mickelson: Nothing better than T-15 since 2008 suggests this isn’t the soft landing after a disappointing MC at Royal Birkdale. Quail Hollow joins the list, a very small one along with Firestone South, of courses that Mickelson hasn’t conquered in his illustrious career.

Brandt Snedeker: He WD Monday morning but gamers need to be aware that he’s WD early the last three events. This would suggest his rib is obviously not fully healed and makes his status cloudy for the PGA Championship next week in Charlotte.

Russell Knox: Tough season for the Scotsman rolls on in the wrong direction after not finding a breakthrough in the UK.

J.B. Holmes: OK, OK, I get it. It’s every-OTHER-week. So that makes him a favorite at Quail Hollow where he’s raked before. Makes sense! He’s never finished in the top 25 here in seven prior attempts.

Adam Hadwin: His 59 and win at Innisbrook felt like years ago. Rookie gamers who follow FEC standings might want to dig a bit deeper as he’s MC in four of his last six with his best finish T-57.

 

Next:

Wednesday I’ll present my gaming angles for the week so keep your eyes peeled at @MikeGlasscott and mikeglasscott.com for more information.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out through Twitter or email me mikeglasscott@gmail.com.

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