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Bridgestone Invitational Preview and Picks
by Matt Fargo - 08/03/2011
The PGA Tour is doing double duty this week, the third time this season that a regular tour event and a WGC event are taking place the same week. This week, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational takes center stage with all but one player in the top 50 in the OWGR competing from the Firestone Country Club South Course in Akron, Ohio. The Reno-Tahoe has to deal with that along with preceding the PGA Championship.
We will keep our focus on the Bridgestone for betting purposes as we have a field that has not been seen on many occasions this season because of its strength. In total, 77 players are in the limited field and as is the normal case in these invitational tournaments, there is no cut and the winner’s purse is $1.4 million while the minimum payout is $35,000 so there is a lot on the line.
The South Course at Firestone seems almost unfair to amateurs as it is a par 70 but measures 7,400 yards making it the longest par 70 course of all non-majors. Surprisingly, the bombers off the tee do not have a huge edge as the real way to score is hitting greens in regulation as the greens can be very receptive and can lead to good birdie chances. Firestone South ranked 11th out of 51 courses in difficulty last season.
There are just 15 players in this year’s field that have made it to Bridgestone all four previous years and six more (after Ross Fisher WD) that have made it the last three years. This is important at a place like this since familiarity is a key component in being successful. Of those 21 players, only five have averaged a top 20 or better finish led by Hunter Mahan who has finished the last four years an average of ninth place.
The other four players are Padraig Harrington (averaged 11th), Justin Rose (19th), Zach Johnson (19th) and Miguel Angel Jimenez (12th). Jimenez did not play in 2007 however. Mahan, Harrington and Jimenez along with Retief Goosen, Steve Stricker, Lee Westwood and Tiger Woods are the only players in the field who have compiled two top 10 finishes with Mahan and Woods being the only two-time top five finishers.
With the steady rise of European players to the top of the World Golf Ranking, you would think they would be the favorite for one of them to take the championship. Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Luke Donald are the three favorites heading in but a European player has never won the Bridgestone Invitational and in 48 Firestone events only two Europeans, Darren Clarke and Jose Maria Olazabal, have left as champions.
The defending champion is Hunter Mahan (+3,000) who shot a 64 on Sunday to win by two shots over Ryan Palmer. This came after a T4 in 2009 at Firestone so he is far and away the player with the most success here the last two years. He has missed only three cuts this year but they were all three Majors which is concerning with a similar field strength here. While he has not won this year, he has seven top tens.
Tiger Woods (+2,000) is making his long awaited return as he has not played since THE PLAYERS Championship when he withdrew after nine holes. It has been a long road back and who knows when things get back to normal for Woods, if ever. One thing is for sure and that is he loves Firestone as he has won here seven times, including two three-peats. He did however have his worst ever finish on tour here last year, a T78.
If there is one European player who can break through at Firestone, it could be Luke Donald (+1,500). After all, he played his college golf at Northwestern and he is still playing his best golf ever. He is playing in the Bridgestone Invitational for the sixth time with his best result a T6 in 2005. He has been outside the top 15 in three of his last four events but he won the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship earlier this year.
Steve Stricker (+1,500) is playing some of the top golf in the world. He has won two of his last four events and has not finished outside the top 20 since February, a span of nine tournaments. He took off following the Open Championship so he comes in fresh and Firestone has been kind to him as he has finishes of T9 and T5 the last two years. He leads the tour in scrambling and strokes gained in putting, two big categories for here.
While Adam Scott (+5,000) will be looking for his first Bridgestone Invitational, his man on the bag might have more motivation. Scott picked up Woods' former caddie Stevie Williams and what better way for Williams to get his revenge than to win here. Scott has that opportunity as he has two top three finishes this year as well as a T6 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship. He finished T9 at Firestone last year.
Sean O'Hair (+6,000) was having a really tough season, until he went north of the border and won the RBC Canadian Open. Going into Shaughnessy, he had missed the cut in nine of his previous 12 tournaments but put together a 66-68 weekend to win in a playoff over Kris Blanks. It was also his first top ten of the season. He can carry that over to Akron where he finished fifth last year and T12 in 2008.
When we are talking about the best players in the world in this event, someone has to be a real longshot and that is Lucas Glover (+8,000) along with a few others. He is a winner this year at the Wells Fargo Championship and he was in contention at the RBC Canadian Open until a final round 75 sent him down to a T40. He has played here the last three years with T22 and T18 finishes the last two. He is playing well enough to win.
Recommended Tournament Win Five Pack at the Bridgestone Invitational – All for 1 Unit
Luke Donald (+1,500)
Steve Stricker (+1,500)
Adam Scott (+5,000)
Sean O'Hair (+6,000)
Lucas Glover (+8,000)