The sport's leading professionals have arrived in Akron, Ohio for the third World Golf Championship event of 2014 – and the final tune-up before next week’s USPGA Championship at Valhalla.
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 brutally-long 7,400 yard par 70 lay-out at which Tiger Woods has triumphed on no fewer than eight occasions – including a seven-stroke victory last year.
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 played host to this World Golf Championships event since its inception in 1999, previously existing as the World Series of Golf.
Firestone’s pristine South Course can be regarded as a typical American parkland test. A 7,400-yard par 70, it has earned the nickname of the ‘The Monster’ having originally being labelled as such by Arnold Palmer after he made a triple-bogey at the signature par-five 16th. A tough, unrelenting track, the course’s main defences – beyond its length – are its tight fairways and thick rough. Boasting a succession of long par-fours (seven are over 460 yards), most of the holes are straight up and down, although holes eight and 13 offer some variety in the form of dog-legs. Meanwhile, it has larger than average-sized greens, though not masses of water.
2013: 265 (Tiger Woods)
2012: 267 (Keegan Bradley)
2011: 263 (Adam Scott)
2010: 268 (Hunter Mahan)
2009: 268 (Tiger Woods)
Lowest rounds at Firestone's South Course since 2000
61: Tiger Woods (2000 & 2013)
62: Fred Funk (2003)
62: Katsumasa Miyamoto (2010)
62: Adam Scott (2011)
63: Eight times
NB: 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.
Round 1 tee-times (all times local, Ohio is 5hrs behind UK)
(Starting from the first tee)
0910 Matt Every, Branden Grace
0920 Tim Clark, Angel Cabrera
0930 Tano Goya, Alexander Levy
0940 Matt Jones, Thongchai Jaidee
0950 Francesco Molinari, Seung-Yul Noh
1000 Luke Donald, Webb Simpson
1010 Jimmy Walker, Lee Westwood
1020 Graeme McDowell, Hunter Mahan
1030 Keegan Bradley, Miguel Angel Jimenez
1300 Steven Bowditch, Kevin Stadler
1310 Fabrizio Zanotti, Graham DeLaet
1320 Richard Sterne, Scott Stallings
1330 Mikko Ilonen, Brendon Todd
1340 J.B. Holmes, David Lynn
1350 Jim Furyk, Jason Day
1400 Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler
1410 Bubba Watson, Adam Scott
1420 Tiger Woods, Martin Kaymer
1430 Henrik Stenson, Bill Haas
(Starting from the 10th tee)
0910 Patrick Reed, John Senden
0920 Harris English, Ryan Moore
0930 Pablo Larrazabal, Louis Oosthuizen
0940 Brian Harman, David Howell
0950 Joost Luiten, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano
1000 Charl Schwartzel, Jamie Donaldson
1010 Jordan Spieth, Victor Dubuisson
1020 Brandt Snedeker, Hideki Matsuyama
1030 Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson
1040 Matt Kuchar, Rory McIlroy
1300 Chris Kirk, Marc Leishman
1310 Kevin Streelman, Daisuke Maruyama
1320 Stephen Gallacher, Ben Crane
1330 Russell Henley, Jonas Blixt
1340 Gary Woodland, Yoshitaka Takeya
1350 Ernie Els, Jason Dufner
1400 Zach Johnson, Ian Poulter
1410 Brendon de Jonge, Kevin Na
1420 Thomas Bjorn, Steve Stricker
Round 2 tee-times
(Starting from the first tee)
0910 Chris Kirk, Marc Leishman
0920 Kevin Streelman, Daisuke Maruyama
0930 Stephen Gallacher, Ben Crane
0940 Russell Henley, Jonas Blixt
0950 Gary Woodland, Yoshitaka Takeya
1000 Ernie Els, Jason Dufner
1010 Zach Johnson, Ian Poulter
1020 Brendon de Jonge, Kevin Na
1030 Thomas Bjorn, Steve Stricker
1300 Patrick Reed, John Senden
1310 Harris English, Ryan Moore
1320 Pablo Larrazabal, Louis Oosthuizen
1330 Brian Harman, David Howell
1340 Joost Luiten, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano
1350 Charl Schwartzel, Jamie Donaldson
1400 Jordan Spieth, Victor Dubuisson
1410 Brandt Snedeker, Hideki Matsuyama
1420 Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson
1430 Matt Kuchar, Rory McIlroy
(Starting from the 10th tee)
0910 Steven Bowditch, Kevin Stadler
0920 Fabrizio Zanotti, Graham DeLaet
0930 Richard Sterne, Scott Stallings
0940 Mikko Ilonen, Brendon Todd
0950 J.B. Holmes, David Lynn
1000 Jim Furyk, Jason Day
1010 Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler
1020 Bubba Watson, Adam Scott
1030 Tiger Woods, Martin Kaymer
1040 Henrik Stenson, Bill Haas
1300 Matt Every, Branden Grace
1310 Tim Clark, Angel Cabrera
1320 Tano Goya, Alexander Levy
1330 Matt Jones, Thongchai Jaidee
1340 Francesco Molinari, Seung-Yul Noh
1350 Luke Donald, Webb Simpson
1400 Jimmy Walker, Lee Westwood
1410 Graeme McDowell, Hunter Mahan
1420 Keegan Bradley, Miguel Angel Jimenez
Given he has won eight times at Firestone and returns as defending champion, Tiger Woods would seem a good place to start when evaluating this as a betting heat.
However, despite his peerless course form and penchant for performing best at certain select venues, it is difficult to make a case for the 14-time major champion as he continues to feel his way back after injury.
Although he’s two weeks further down the line in that process, the rustiness was there for all to see at Hoylake and it would take a leap of faith to imagine him adding to his Firestone tally this week – reflected in the fact he goes off a third favourite behind Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott in the eyes of the bookmakers.
But if not Woods, it seems fair to assume that this week will throw up another elite-level winner given that 13 of the last 14 champions at Firestone have been major champions.
The only man to break that sequence was Hunter Mahan in 2010, himself a top-class performer and already a multiple WGC winner.
So while not an original pick Adam Scott certainly fits the bill when looking for a potential winner.
The Australian is a past champion here (2011) and this supreme ball-striker arrives in good nick after a fine display at Royal Liverpool when he finished tied for fifth despite being on the wrong side of the draw.
Nowadays Scott looks capable of contending wherever he turns up, but this looks to be a test that suits and, although a short price, the world No 1 looks certain to be in the mix.
Another former champion of interest is Keegan Bradley who has a stellar record at this place since contending on debut back in 2011 before falling away on the Sunday to finish in a tie for 15th.
A year later he emerged triumphant after a late collapse from Jim Furyk and was runner-up 12 months ago behind an unrivalled Woods.
A long, powerful hitter and rugged competitor, Bradley relishes the challenges of tough lay-outs and looks an excellent fit this week at a respectable price given that he’s made no secret of his fondness for the event.
Given that he already has two wins to his name this season (including a second Masters title at Augusta) it is something of a surprise to big-hitting Bubba Watson chalked up at 40/1 this week.
Granted his form been somewhat hit and miss of late after a supremely consistent spell earlier in the year and his best finish at Firestone is a tie for 19th back in 2012.
But the left-hander has dropped hints here before with rounds of 64 and 66 (without ever quite putting four together) and is now a proven performer at the biggest events – his length is an obvious plus and if he clicks he could easily go close.
To complete the portfolio we’ll side with yet another major winner and another who looks to have been somewhat underestimated this week.
Although his last win came on home soil in the Alfred Dunhill Championship at the back end of last year, Charl Schwartzel has been ticking along in consistent if unspectacular form this season with six top-12 finishes in 14 starts going back to February.
Mercurial on his day, the South African – who finished seventh at Hoylake - is a class performer who can dominate long tracks and, at 50/1, looks worth an interest to step up on his previous best here - a tie for 21st last year.
Best bets (All prices with Sky Bet)
2pts to win Adam Scott @ 11/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Keegan Bradley @ 25/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w. Bubba Watson @ 40/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)
1pt e.w Charl Schwartzel @ 50/1 (1/4 1,2,3,4,5)