The Bridgestone Invitational is a world golf championship by name and by the quality of the field playing in the tournament this week. The WGC events are only below the four major championships in terms of prestige and this week’s event has attracted all the players in the top 20 in the world rankings. If you were basing your main bet on course form you would have to back Tiger Woods who is an eight-times winner of the championship at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.
Woods has not been fully fit for a good few years but kept coming back to the game too soon and the wheels quickly fell off and he left the Tour again. However, he was absent for the best part of two years most recently. He suffered a great deal of pain and his career looked over. Woods is looking fully covered and healthy and had a great chance to win the Open a week last Sunday.
The former world number one was four shots adrift of the leaders ahead of the fourth round. He played a solid front nine and was the leader of the tournament with nine holes to play. In his pomp Woods would have got the job done but a couple of errors cost him three shots in two holes and he could not recover the ground. Francesco Molinari played the best golf over the weekend and was a worthy Open champion but Woods got in the mix and showed he can still compete at the highest level.
If Tiger is to add to his tally of 18 WGC events this week’s host course is the best venue. He has made Firestone his own and from 1999 to 2013 won this week’s event eight times. Woods clearly has a game suited to the course where he won his last WGC event in 2013. The 14-times major champion combines course form, current form and key skills and that is usually a recipe for a good week. If Woods prevails he has to beat the best field of the year outside the majors.
There are 73 players in the field this week and there is no cut so everyone receives a cheque. One of the objectives of world championship golf was to create more events which brought together the best players. That objective has been met and it could be said there is a stronger field than at the Open. The oldest major championship has places for leading amateurs and players from the minor tours but this week is all about quality and the world rankings. Every qualifier is committed to playing at Firestone.
The course is a par 70 track over 7,400 yards. It is a long course for its par but it is forgiving off the tee. There is a premium on iron play and finding the greens in the correct number of shots. There was a field of 76 players last year and the average score was 70.50 shots. Hideki Matsuyama won by five shots and he closed with a course record equalling 61 to race away from the field. He hit the greens in regulation and putted well and that skills’ profile will be required for good scoring this week.
The nature of the course and the level of competition has to bring Rory McIlroy into the equation. He broke par in his four rounds in the Open and finished tied second. McIlroy won on this week’s course in 2014 and has finished in the top 10 five times in seven starts. The Irish player would be the tip in normal circumstances but we cannot ignore the current world number one. Dustin Johnson can confirm that status by winning at Firestone for the second time but he has a long way to go to win on the track as many times as Woods.