The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, brutal no-cut cashgrab that it is, is upon us. Formerly an event dominated by Tiger Woods, recent tournaments have seen some big-name winners (Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy) and some surprises (Shane Lowry, Keegan Bradley).
Almost every tee shot plays down hill at the 7,400-yard Robert Trent Jones, Sr. course. When it's dry, long hitters tee shots run forever. When it's wet, length is necessary off the tee to leave a shot from a distance a player can reasonably expect to get close.
Seven of the course's par fours are more than 450 yards, so targeting players who can hit is long and relatively straight off the tee and play the four-shotters well is key.
Firestone features fast greens that play smaller owing to false fronts and undulations. Statistically, it's tough to hit the fairways and tough to hit the greens. Thus, play off the tee is the most important factor at this Akron, Ohio, track.
You can make birdies from the fairway but not so much from the rough, and power with the tee ball is nice as well. Total driving and strokes gained: tee-to-green are worthy statistical linchpins this week.
Beyond this, well-played long iron shots are key, particularly in the 175 to 200 yard range.
An important note if you somehow forgot: There's no cut at this event, so you'll almost certainly have to take some chances to cash in GPP. Be bold!
Creme de la Creme
Brooks Koepka: $11,100
The U.S. Open champ finished tied for sixth at the British Open in his most recent action. BK has completed just one tournament at Firestone, finishing sixth in 2015. Koepka is 48th in strokes gained off the tee and sixth in birdie average. As there are no strokes gained numbers for The Open or the U.S. Open, his stats don't accurately reflect the quality of his recent play.
Rickie Fowler: $10,600
A horse for the course, Fowler has finished 10th or better in his last three turns at the WGC Bridgestone. He enters on the strength of five top-10 finishes in his last seven starts. Fowler is ninth in strokes gained: approach, third in strokes gained: putting, and second in total strokes gained. Fourth in birdie average as well.
Mark Leishman: $8,000
Coming off top-10 finishes at the Quicken Loans National, Leishman arrives at a venue where he's had three ho-hum showings and one top-five finish (2014). 35th in strokes gained: off-the-tee, 37th in strokes gained: approach, eighth in total strokes gained.
Kevin Chappell: $7,500
Chappell bounced back from a pair of missed cuts with a top-10 finish at the RBC Canadian Open. He tied for third in his maiden appearance at Firestone last year, which is impressive as first-timers rarely play well here.
Charl Schwartzel: $7,200
Attractively priced at $7,200, Schwartzel played well at the Porsche European Open after unimpressive showings at the U.S. and British Opens. The South African finished inside the top 10 in two of his last three WGC-Bridgestone starts. 45th in total strokes gained.
Bill Haas: $6,900
Bill Haas surprisingly missed the cut at The Open Championship, but the North Carolina native had been doing respectable work before that. He doesn't have a brilliant WGC-Bridgestone showing on his resume but has finished inside the top 25 in three of his last five turns. 26th in strokes gained: tee-to-green.