Firestone Country Club hosts the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational for the final time this week.
It has hosted most iterations of the event, as part of the prestigious four-tournament WGC series, since its inception in 1999, but the tournament will move to Memphis, Tennessee next year.
Firestone is very long for a par 70, measuring 7,400 yards, though most winning scores go into the double figures.
One man who will lament the movement of the event is surely Tiger Woods. The legend has won no less than eight(!) Bridgestone Invitationals, the last of those coming in 2013. That’s a superb career for most players across all tournaments, let alone just one.
Woods’ tied sixth finish at The Open qualifies him for the event for the first time since 2014, with his 50th place in the world rankings just enough to gain entry. This is as premier a field as you’re likely to see all year, with invitations limited to the top 50, tournament winners of the past year, and members of the President’s Cup teams.
The busy time of season means that the world’s top players are all over the place, with Patrick Reed (50/1) and Bryson DeChambeau(66/1) in Germany, and Dustin Johnson (7/1 fav) winning in Canada. But they all congregate here annually, despite taking place a week before the final Major of the season.
Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama (45/1) is the defending champion, but by his high standards, he’s easily in the worst form seen in the past six years. Although Tiger’s form here is prolific, Matsuyama had finishes of 42-37-12 prior to his win, so with such class in the field, course form isn’t the defining factor.
The biggest names (and hitters) in Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy (12/1) and Adam Scott (80/1) have won here, but Shane Lowry’s win in 2015 gives hope to those quality ball-strikers in an event seen as a worthy precursor to a Major championship. Again, Lowry’s record at Firestone hasn’t been great aside from the win.
As for who could claim victory this week, the likes of Paul Casey (40/1) (recent course form of 5-16-17), Rory McIlroy (who won the 2014 edition and has four other top tens) and Henrik Stenson (28/1) (who’s been in the top 20 in his last four visits, including a second) do have superb form here, and all are currently playing well.
Elsewhere, 2018 Open winner Francesco Molinari (25/1) has struggled here, only cracking the top 30 once in his last five appearances. Louis Oosthuizen (66/1) has also had a tough time of it, going 50-21-42-61 in his recent Bridgestone bids.
Given the reduced field of around 75, we’ll make only the three picks this week.
First up is Zach Johnson (45/1).
The two-time Major winner ultimately faltered at The Open, eventually finishing 17th, but it was the latest in a string of four top 20s. He finished second here last year, and came fourth in 2013 on a course that doesn’t quite suit his shorter playing style. He was third in driving accuracy, meaning that being almost last in distance isn’t a detriment to the classy all-rounder. He’s been scoring well, and this week represents as good an opportunity as any to claim an inevitable win.
Patrick Cantlay (50/1) is an interesting prospect.
He has fully recovered from a debilitating back injury, going on to win the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open late last year, and has threatened to win for much of 2018. He ranks highly in driving, and given that Matsuyama topped the statistic en route to winning last year, Cantlay’s greens-in-regulation rank of 22nd on Tour bodes very well for his chances.
Lastly, we’re going with Tiger Woods at 12/1. There’s no value at that price, but if he is to win in 2018, it’ll be here. A small stake will make his emotional comeback victory all the more sweeter.