Last week, Dustin Johnson took home the trophy at the Canadian Open for the first time after finishing T-2 and T-5 in 2017 and 2016 respectively. We were all over him, but how could you not be confident in choosing world number one to end up at the top of the leaderboard? His driving was spectacular and his short iron play was phenomenal. It seemed like every approach shot was stuck to 10-15 feet, so it should go without saying that his putter was also on fire, and all of this was reflected in his 23 under par score. This was a nice pick-me-up for DJ after missing the cut at The Open championship before heading into one of the last World Golf Championship matches of the season. Not only did we hit with DJ, but both of the other guys we picked finished inside the top-20 as well with Keegan Bradley finishing fourth at 17 under, and Harold Varner III finishing T-17 at 13 under. Now, without further ado, let’s jump into this weeks tournament.
After The Open and the RBC Canadian Open, the PGA Tour returns to the United States where Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio will host the WGC Bridgestone Invitational. This will be the last time that Firestone CC will host this event because in 2019 it will be moving to Memphis, Tennessee, and I’m really sad to see this one go. In all my years as a golf fanatic, some of my favorite memories come from this course. Most of these memories contained Tiger Woods (and we’ll talk about why in just a moment), but I will also never forget Rory McIlroy’s immaculate round of 15 under to steal the win from Sergio Garcia in 2014. But before I become too emotional, let’s jump into the course.
Firestone CC is a 7400 yard, par 70 course. In comparison to last weeks course, the players have to attack over 100 more yards with 2 less strokes. To make matters even worse there are only two par 5’s, one which is the reachable 526 yard second hole, and the other which is the 667 yard sixteenth. Yes, you read that right. The sixteenth hole at Firestone is almost 700 yards! And just when you thought it couldn’t get any tougher, it has been raining consistently in the Akron area for 3 days now, so drives won’t roll out as much, making the hole play even longer. Needless to say that it is not an eagle hole, and probably won’t even really be a birdie hole. For most players, a par here will feel like a birdie and a bogey will feel like par. The other holes are just as tough. The four par 3’s have an average of 205 yards, and the remaining twelve par 4’s average 449 yards. The distance, rough length, and speed of the greens make the course challenging since there aren’t really any daunting bunkers or water to worry about. Keep an eye out for the bombers again this week.
This weeks field has about 73 golfers, and includes just about every big name on Tour, with the exception of world number 2, Justin Rose, who withdrew today due to back issues. Chances are your favorite golfer is playing this week, and you’ll get to watch them all four days since this is a no-cut event. We have DJ, Rory, Tiger, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, and Francesco Molinari (who is coming in off of an Open victory) just to name a few. There are also plenty of really good players who are in the middle tier range relative to the field like Zach Johnson, Adam Scott, and last years winner Hideki Matsuyama. This field is the definition of stacked, which is the main reason that it’s one of my favorite events outside of the majors.
The only downside to having a stacked field is that it makes picking players that I think will win, extremely difficult. The way that I tier players is relative to the field, so you might see some bigger names in the “middle tier” section that you usually wouldn’t.
It brings me so much joy to say that, for the first time this season, my first top-tier pick this week to win the WGC Bridgestone Invitational is Tiger Woods. You can’t talk about this tournament and not mention Tiger’s name. You really can’t talk about any WGC tournament and not mention Tiger’s name since he has eighteen WGC victories, eight of which come from the Bridgestone Invitational. This includes two three-peats from 1999-2001, and 2005-2007, and also his last win which took place in 2013. He also spoke to the media earlier this week stating that he’s been working so hard to get back into shape so he could play and compete, at the Bridgestone Invitational.
Tiger loves this golf course and has been playing great as of late, but the only concern I have with picking Tiger is that he’s going to have to hit his driver well. The Open was a place where he didn’t have to hit driver to have the distance to make holes easier, which could be one reason why he finished T-6. But I do have to say that when I saw him hit driver, with the exception of one or two holes, he was hitting it well and left me wondering why he wasn’t hitting it more. His iron play has been pretty good, and his putting was phenomenal at The Open, so if he can get his off-the-tee game together, I think this is where we’ll finally see Tiger win again.
My middle-tier pick this week is Tony Finau, and it honestly shocks me to say “middle-tier” and “Tony Finau” in the same sentence. However, with 50-1 odds, he somehow has ended up in the middle despite finishing in the top-10 in all three majors this year and 4 other events. Tony has the third best driving average on Tour with 316.9 yards, and is twenty-eighth in strokes gained off-the-tee. He hits almost seventy percent of the greens in regulation, which makes him twenty-fifth on Tour and that is going to be extremely important this week to optimize the number of birdie chances he’ll have. He’s been in great form recently, and I think we’ll be seeing him in a top 10 position this week.
My bottom tier pick for the Bridgestone Invitational is Kevin Chappell. Chappell is having a pretty good year so far, accumulating 4 top-ten finishes, including a T-6 at The Open Championship. Chappell has great numbers in categories that count the most this week. He is ranked seventeenth in driving distance, averaging 308.4 yards, tenth in strokes gained off-the-tee with .696, fortieth in strokes gained approach-the-green with .419, and thirty-first in strokes gained tee-to-green with .946. All of this, plus his confidence booster at The Open, should add up to a top-25 finish at the Bridgestone Invitational.