Preview: WGC Bridgestone Invitational

This week I’m heading to the WGC Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio to accompany Nick Cullen on his start at the event. Thru his win at the 2014 Australian Masters Nick is eligible to start with the Top50 Golfers in the world alongside this year’s tournament winners.

  • COURSE: Firestone Country Club (South), 7,400 yards, par 70. What began as a generous perk from Harvey Firestone to employees of his tire company, the club has risen in its own right as a major championship host and overall stern test of golf. The South course opened in 1929, then remade by Robert Trent Jones for the 1960 PGA Championship captured by Jay Hebert. The PGA of America brought its championship back again in 1966 and ’75, by which time Firestone had become home of the World Series of Golf. The event moved under the World Golf Championships banner in 1999.
  • FEDEXCUP: Winner receives 550 points.
  • CHARITY: The First Tee is the primary beneficiary of World Golf Championships events. Proceeds also were distributed last year to 42 Northeast Ohio charities, including Ronald McDonald House Charities and Akron Children’s Hospital.
  • FIELD WATCH: Freshly-crowned Open Championship winner Zach Johnson and Masters/U.S. Open winner Jordan Spieth headline the list of 76 qualifiers. World No.1 Rory McIlroy (ankle) and Chris Kirk (hand) are the only absences from the rankings’ top 50. … Spots remain for the Quicken Loans National winner or anyone who enters the top 50 in Monday’s rankings. … Kevin Kisner, runner-up in three playoffs this season, and former U.S. Amateur champion Byeong-Hun an are among six entrants playing their first World Golf Championships event. … Lee Westwood is set for his 52nd WGC start, most of any player but still in pursuit of his first WGC victory.
  • 72-HOLE RECORD: 259, Tiger Woods (2000).
  • 18-HOLE RECORD: 61, José María Olazábal (1st round, 1990), Tiger Woods (2nd round, 2000 and 2nd round, 2013), Sergio Garcia (2nd round, 2014).
  • LAST YEAR: Fresh off his triumph at The Open, McIlroy showed little letdown with a Sunday charge to overtake Sergio Garcia by two and return to the world No. 1 ranking. McIlroy needed just three holes to wipe out a three-shot deficit, using his third straight birdie to overtake Garcia while the Spaniard bogeyed from the rough. McIlroy never trailed after that, producing a 4-under-par 66 to join Woods as the only men to win a major and WGC in consecutive starts. Garcia carded a closing 71, finishing runner-up to McIlroy for the second consecutive start. He also was two shots back at Royal Liverpool. Woods was forced to withdraw midway through his final round, aggravating his surgically repaired back when he hit from an awkward bunker stance.
  • STORYLINES: Spieth, whose quest for a third consecutive major came up one stroke short of joining the playoff at St. Andrews, can displace the idled McIlroy atop the world rankings with a victory. His best finish in a WGC event was reaching the quarterfinals of last year’s Match Play. … Zach Johnson makes his first start since capturing the Claret Jug two weekends ago. He owns three top-10 finishes at Firestone, including a tie for fourth in 2013. … Dustin Johnson, winner of the WGC-Cadillac crown at Trump Doral, has a chance to become just the third man to win two WGCs in the same year. Woods has done it six times; Phil Mickelson won at Doral and China in 2009. … Day, who won the RBC Canadian Open after just missing the playoff at St. Andrews, seeks to record back-to-back wins.
  • SHORT CHIPS: Of the past 20 winners crowned at Firestone, just one doesn’t also have a major championship to his name (Hunter Mahan, 2010). That includes the last five editions of the old-World Series of Golf. … Three members of Europe’s Ryder Cup winners last year are among four entrants still outside the top 125 in FedExCup points – Graeme McDowell (158th), Martin Kaymer (163rd) and Victor Dubuisson (203rd). Charl Schwartzel (133rd) is the other; three weeks remain to grab a Playoffs berth.

(Information that follows is firstly shown at pgatour.com)

Firestone Country Club