A preview, stats and best bets for this week's WGC event - the Bridgestone Invitational
By Mark Kendall - Twitter: @SkySportsMK. Last Updated: 30/07/13 7:15pm
Firestone's South Course will once again play host to the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational
The sport's leading professionals have arrived in Akron, Ohio for the third World Golf Championship event of 2013.
Firestone Country Club - originally constructed by entrepreneur Harvey Firestone as a perk for the employees of his automotive tyre company - is once again the location for the prestigious Bridgestone-sponsored event.
The tournament will take place over Firestone's South Course, a 7,400 yard par 70 lay-out at which Tiger Woods has triumphed on no fewer than seven occasions - although not since 2009.
The South Course was built in 1928 and underwent an upgrade 32 years later at the hands of famed architect Robert Trent Jones in time for the 1960 USPGA Championship, won by Jay Hebert.
It has larger than average-sized greens though not masses of water.
The leading contenders
Tiger Woods (9/2): Since the tournament became a WGC event in 1999, Woods has won seven of the 13 editions held at Firestone. Indeed, he's earned more at Firestone ($9.36 million) than on any other course in his career. With Woods having already won at favourite haunts such as Bay Hill and Torrey Pines this season, it would certainly be no surprise to see him do the business here again. That said, he has not tasted victory in Akron since 2009 and could be worth taking on at a prohibitive price.
Phil Mickelson (12/1): Will be riding the crest of a wave after a memorable couple of weeks in Scotland that culminated in his hugely popular victory at Muirfield. Those wins proved what Mickelson had been saying for quite some time, that he is currently playing some of the very best golf of his stellar career. Over the years this event at Firestone has not quite proved his cup of tea (although he did win it back in 1996), but weren't people saying that about links golf not so long ago?
Adam Scott (16/1): Scott has gone a long way to fulfilling his undoubted potential over the past couple of years and now ranks amongst the sport's very elite. Proof of this comes with the Australian's record in the biggest events with six top-10s in his last 11 major appearances - including that breakthrough victory at Augusta earlier this year. Winner of this event in 2011, Scott also finished third at the last WGC event at Doral. Add in the fact that he boasts the kind of driving and GIR stats that look an ideal match for Firestone and what's not to like?
Brandt Snedeker (20/1): After hinting for some time that he was close to rediscovering his scintillating early-season form, Snedeker duly delivered last week as he landed his sixth PGA Tour title at the RBC Canadian Open. That troublesome mid-season rib injury now seems well and truly behind him, although Snedeker's record at Firestone is modest at best. His three visits thus far have yielded nothing better than a tie for 33rd, although the 32-year-old is now a much improved performer.
Justin Rose (22/1): Rose returns to competitive action after missing the cut at the Open; although that result is unlikely to have caused too much concern for the Englishman and his followers coming as it did in an event at which he has not placed in the top-10 since his debut in 1998. Firestone looks to present a test much more suited to the newly-crowned US Open champion where his driving and ball-striking skills should come to the fore. Rose already has two top-five finishes at the tournament, one of those coming 12 months ago.
Matt Kuchar is enjoying a hugely consistent year and has good form at Firestone
Matt Kuchar (22/1): Mr Reliable, Kuchar is now one of the world's most consistent performers. Came close to adding his third victory of the year last week before having to settle for a share of second in Canada behind Snedeker. The result was his fourth top-two finish of the season - and his seventh top-10 in total - while the 35-year-old leads the Tour with 21 consecutive cuts made. His record at Firestone is encouraging with top-10s in two of the last three years, including a tie for eighth last time around.
RESULTS of this week's competitors from last EIGHT YEARS at FIRESTONE CC
Player: '05 / '06 / '07 / '08 / '09 / '10 / '11 / '12
Kiradech Aphibarnrat: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Jonas Blixt: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Keegan Bradley: - / - / - / - / - / - / 15 / Won
Angel Cabrera: 41 / 4 / 69 / 36 / 4 / 33 / - / -
Paul Casey: 19 / 4 / 51 / 8 / Wd / 22 / 45 / -
Nicolas Colsaerts: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / 45
Jason Day: - / - / - / - / - / 22 / 4 / 29
Luke Donald: 6 / 8 / 22 / - / 45 / 46 / 2 / 8
Jamie Donaldson: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / 36
Jason Dufner: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / 7
Ken Duke: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Ernie Els: - / 31 / 22 / 27 / 29 / 22 / 37 / 45
Harris English: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Derek Ernst: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Gonzalo F'dez-Castano: - / 75 / - / - / 70 / - / - / 55
Rickie Fowler: - / - / - / - / - / 33 / 2 / 60
Jim Furyk: 24 / 3 / - / 27 / 51 / 6 / 23 / 2
Stephen Gallacher: 58 / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Tommy Gainey: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Sergio Garcia: 13 / 22 / 20 / 36 / 22 / 22 / 53 / 29
Brian Gay: - / - / - / - / 79 / - / - / -
Branden Grace: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / 36
Bill Haas: - / - / - / - / - / 33 / 63 / 19
Peter Hanson: - / - / - / - / - / 8 / 21 / 63
Russell Henley: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Billy Horschel: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Mikko Ilonen: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Miguel Angel Jimenez: 57 / 54 / - / 10 / 6 / 22 / 72 / -
Dustin Johnson: - / - / - / - / 22 / 15 / 48 / 19
Zach Johnson: 9 / 36 / 11 / 16 / 15 / 33 / 6 / 40
Martin Kaymer: - / - / - / 68 / 60 / 22 / 29 / 29
Satoshi Kodaira: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Matt Kuchar: - / - / - / - / - / 9 / 19 / 8
Martin Laird: - / - / - / - / - / 16 / 11 / 29
Paul Lawrie: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / 50
Shane Lowry: - / - / - / - / 77 / - / - / -
David Lynn: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Hunter Mahan: - / - / 22 / 10 / 4 / Won / 37 / 55
Matteo Manassero: - / - / - / - / - / - / 37 / -
Hideki Matsuyama: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Graeme McDowell: Wd / - / - / 56 / 45 / 22 / 65 / 24
Rory McIlroy: - / - / - / - / 68 / 9 / 6 / 5
John Merrick: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Phil Mickelson: 51 / 54 / 46 / 4 / 58 / 46 / 48 / 43
Francesco Molinari: - / - / - / - / - / 39 / 15 / 40
Ryan Moore: - / - / - / - / - / 16 / 23 / -
Thorbjorn Olesen: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Carl Pettersson: - / 27 / 30 / - / 36 / - / - / 28
Scott Piercy: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / 19
DA Points: - / - / - / - / - / - / 19 / -
Daniel Popovic: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Ian Poulter: 33 / 13 / 30 / 16 / 15 / 65 / 68 / 29
Richie Ramsay: 70 / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Justin Rose: - / - / 2 / 27 / 29 / 19 / 33 / 5
Brett Rumford: - / - / - / 71 / - / - / - / -
Sang-Moon Bae: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / 66
Charl Schwartzel: - / 36 / - / - / - / 58 / 53 / 24
Adam Scott: 36 / 10 / 36 / 56 / 51 / 9 / Won / 45
Webb Simpson: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Brandt Snedeker: - / - / - / 43 / - / - / 33 / 50
Henrik Stenson: 13 / 31 / 41 / 16 / 29 / 80 / - / -
Richard Sterne: - / - / 51 / - / 73 / - / - / -
Kevin Streelman: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Steve Stricker: - / - / 41 / 43 / 6 / 9 / 14 / 2
Toru Taniguchi: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / Wd
Michael Thompson: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Bo Van Pelt: - / - / - / - / - / 3 / 23 / 8
Jaco Van Zyl: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Nick Watney: - / - / 61 / - / 36 / 16 / 23 / 19
Bubba Watson: - / - / - / - / - / 22 / 21 / 19
Boo Weekley: - / - / 30 / 66 / 58 / 46 / - / -
Lee Westwood: 24 / Wd / 22 / 2 / 9 / Wd / 9 / 70
Chris Wood: - / - / - / - / - / - / - / -
Tiger Woods: Won / Won / Won / - / Won / 78 / 37 / 8
No of Competitors: 72 / 78 / 83 / 80 / 80 / 81 / 76 / 78
LOWEST 15 STROKE AVERAGES over FIRESTONE's SOUTH COURSE
(Last Four Years - 2009/12)
67.63: Keegan Bradley (8)
68.13: Steve Stricker (16)
68.75: Bo Van Pelt (12)
68.92: Matt Kuchar (12)
69.00: Jason Day (12)
69.06: Jim Furyk (16)
69.13: Angel Cabrera (8)
69.17: Martin Laird (12)
69.19: Rory McIlroy (16)
69.31: Hunter Mahan (16)
69.31: Adam Scott (16)
69.38: Ryan Moore (8)
69.44: Luke Donald (16)
69.44: Zach Johnson (16)
69.44: Justin Rose (16)
Min. No. of Rounds = 8
FIRST ROUND SCORES by FIRESTONE CHAMPIONS as a WGC event
1999: Tiger Woods (66)
2000: Tiger Woods (64)
2001: Tiger Woods (66)
2003: Darren Clarke (65)
2004: Stewart Cink (63)
2005: Tiger Woods (66)
2006: Tiger Woods (67)
2007: Tiger Woods (68)
2008: Vijay Singh (67)
2009: Tiger Woods (68)
2010: Hunter Mahan (71)
2011: Adam Scott (62)
2012: Keegan Bradley (67)
Only one Firestone winner, since the tournament became a World Golf Championship event in 1999, has fired an opening round score greater than 68. That was Hunter Mahan in 2010.
Note: Firestone did not stage the event in 2002
LOWEST ROUNDS at FIRESTONE's SOUTH COURSE SINCE 2000
61: Tiger Woods (2000)
62: Fred Funk (2003)
62: Katsumasa Miyamoto (2010)
62: Adam Scott (2011)
63: Eight times
Note: The lowest single round score carded over the South Course prior to 2000 was 61 by Jose Maria Olazabal in 1990. Since 2000, Stewart Cink and Adam Scott have twice fired rounds of 63 or lower at the South Course.
Firestone (South): Par 70; 7,400 yards
Winning Totals (Last Three Years):
2012: 267 (Keegan Bradley)
2011: 263 (Adam Scott)
2010: 268 (Hunter Mahan)
This week a good deal is likely to depend on just how well Tiger Woods performs at one of his favourite tracks.
Off the back of yet another major disappointment, Woods has the chance to bounce back with an eighth career win at Firestone and has proved very hard to stop at happy hunting grounds this year.
It is quite conceivable that the 9/2 on offer about the World No.1 could look like a gift come Sunday, but the fact he has not triumphed on his last three visits provides reason enough to try and take him on.
Matt Kuchar has developed into one of the most consistent and polished performers on the PGA Tour and this season has added the tag of multiple-winner to his CV.
The 35-year-old has progressive form figures at Firestone and looks more than capable of getting into the mix again this week coming off the back of his runner-up finish in Canada.
Lee Westwood has a proven record in the event and something to prove
Lee Westwood has again found every aspect of his game being scrutinised following another major near miss, but there was still plenty to admire about his display at Muirfield.
If his long-game is on song at Firestone, his improved putting and scrambling should stand him in good stead at a lay-out at which he has finished in the top-10 for three of the last five years.
The Englishman looks at home plying his trade in the US now and with something to prove in an elite field this week makes plenty of appeal in what he admits is one of his favourite tournaments on the calendar.
He might have missed the cut in the last two majors, but Bill Haas has been playing some excellent golf this season and seems to be hanging around the right end of the leaderboard if he makes the weekend.
While his record at Firestone is nothing to write home about, the 31-year-old is already a five-time winner on tour, has eight top-10s this year and ranks high in greens hit and par-4 scoring - he could go well at a big price.
Finally, Scotland's Martin Laird could prove worth a small interest, fitting the profile of a long, straight hitter with some course form - notably in 2011 when he headed into the final round just two back of eventual champion Adam Scott before fading.
The Scot has finished 16th (2010), 11th (2011) and 29th (2012) on his three previous trips to Akron and has posted a string of solid rounds during that time.
2pts e.w. Matt Kuchar at 22/1 (Sky Bet 1,2,3,4,5)
2pts e.w. Lee Westwood at 25/1 (Sky Bet 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Bill Haas at 50/1 (Sky Bet 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Martin Laird at 90/1 (Sky Bet 1,2,3,4,5)