By Thomas Dodd
- 62 of world’s best players head to Firestone Country Club for third WGC event of the year
- Tournament brought forward from usual August slot because of Olympics
- Eligible players such as Rory McIlroy, Danny Willett and Lee Westwood skip week to play in France
OHIO, USA – It seems strange to be talking about Akron and Firestone Country Club in June, but the addition of the Olympics to the golfing calendar has forced one of the biggest events outside of the majors to be moved from it’s usual slot one week before the PGA Championship in August.
The invitation-only tournament will give players four rounds against one of the strongest fields in Golf on one of its toughest courses just two weeks before the start of the Open Championship at Royal Troon.
Here are a few to watch out for, and how the British contingent might fair this weekend stateside.
World No. 1 Jason Day headlines the field, which will be at its smallest capacity since 2001. The Australian will start as favourite too after a fabulous season which has seen him finish in the top 10 three time in addition to finding the winners’ circle on three occasions. Day’s record at the Firestone is patchy however, cracking the top 10 only once-a tie for fourth in 2011.
Dustin Johnson will tee it up for the first time since his win in the US Open at Oakmont two weeks ago, but Firestone’s deep rough has often caught out the American’s wayward driving- his best finish in Akron is 15th back in 2010.
One of the most consistent performers at this event over the last few seasons has been Jim Furyk. The 46-year-old’s iconic swing has served him well around the par-70 layout, helping him to no less than nine top tens in 17 attempts. Those included runner-up finishes to Keegan Bradley and Tiger Woods in 2012 and 2001 respectively. Steady Jim also finished in the top 3 last year and was only beaten by Johnson two weeks ago at the US Open.
There will also be those desperate to get back in the groove ahead of this summer’s packed schedule, with the Open and PGA Championships coming thick and fast ahead of Rio. Rickie Fowler has shown promise on Tour as ever, but is yet to make a cut in a major in 2016. Coming back to Firestone should help restore some confidence – the Oklahoma State graduate has already made the top-10 three times in Ohio.
46-year-old Phil Mickelson also missed the cut at Oakmont, but probably won’t be too thrilled to be turning up at an event where he hasn’t contended since 2008.
World no 2 Jordan Spieth has only played eight rounds at Akron, but did finish T10th last August. The young Texan is still trying to convince the world he is over his Masters meltdown after a very disappointing US Open defence a fortnight ago, however.
Shane Lowry’s US Open was far from disappointing, until the final round. Lowry will experience what it is like to defend a title on Tour for the first time at the Bridgestone this week, and will hopefully be re-invigorated coming back to a course with so many great memories off the back of so many dejecting ones in the final round at Oakmont.
With some of Europe’s bigger names controversially deciding to avoid a trip to the US and stay closer to home so close to the Open, only four from these shores are down to play the third WGC event of 2016.
Danny Willett, Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy are all missing but the quality coming over from the United Kingdom should still be formidable.
Justin Rose is still looking for a really good week to kick start his season and will be boosted by the fact he’s ended three of his last four outings at Akron in the top 5.
Paul Casey is now firmly back with the world’s best, but the Bridgestone has not been kind to him over the years, while Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston should cherish another chance to compete with such a high quality field in his first appearance at the tournament.
Britain’s best chance of a winner could well be Russell Knox, who has only missed one cut all year, placing 2nd at the RBC Heritage and the Irish Open, as well as contending at the Players for three rounds before fading to 19th.
Britwatch Sports will provide daily recaps of 2016 WGC Bridgestone-Invitational.
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