PGA Tour: WGC Bridgestone Invitational Preview

Golfer lines up iron shot

Damien Kayat previews the 2018 edition of the WGC Bridgestone Invitational taking place at the Firestone Country Club between 2 August and 5 August. 

Originally known as the World Series of Golf, this event came about in 1976 and became an official part of the World Golf Championships in 1999. This is actually going to be the last edition of the WGC Firestone as the St Jude Classic gets bumped up to WGC status next season.

This is a select field event with only 73 players and no cut. There is also the added incentive of the upcoming Ryder Cup at stake. Players will be keen to sneak into the final qualification spots while a powerful showing could put players in line for those all-important captain’s pick positions. But they will first have to conquer a course with a fearsome reputation.

WGC Bridgestone Invitational | 2 August - 5 August | Firestone Country Club, Ohio

At 7,400 yards, the South Course at Firestone is the longest par 70 course on the PGA roster. Originally designed by Bert Wray in 1928, the course was substantially updated by Robert Trent Jones in 1960. Jack Nicklaus also made some subtle changes to the mammoth layout in 1986. There are seven par 4’s at Firestone that measure over 464 yards. That gives you some indication of the pressure that players will face off the tee. Having said that, the key stat that unites the last five winners is GIR. All five of the previous champions sat inside the top five for GIR. But I guess finding greens is always easier out of the fairway. On the green players will encounter typically slick greens that will test their touch to the limit.

Tiger won this event eight times between 1999 and 2013. So there is some justification for the possibility of a Tiger resurgence this week. Former winner Dustin Johnson is coming off a win while Francisco Molinari is the hottest golfer on the planet; though this course hardly suits the pugnacious Italian. Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy lead the European charge while defending champion Hideki Matsuyama will look to jumpstart an awful season. And where to start with the strong American contingent? Reed, Spieth, Koepka, Fowler, Thomas, DeChambeau, Kisner, Schauffelle. This should prove to be a mesmerizing weekend of golf at the highest level.

Past Winners
2017: Hideki Matsuyama (-16) 
2016: Dustin Johnson (-6)
2015: Shane Lowry (-11)
2014: Rory McIlroy (-15)
2013: Tiger Woods (-15)

To Win Outright:
Dustin Johnson 7/1 | Rory McIlroy 11/1 | Tiger Woods 12/1 | Justin Rose 14/1 | Jordan Spieth 16/1

Value Bets

Zach Johnson- To Win 45/1, To Place 19/2
Francisco Molinari’s recent domination of golf has provided the guys with slightly less ammunition with the self-belief that they could still be factors in big events. Not that two-time Major winner Zach Johnson will be lacking in self-belief. Though he dissipated quite badly to finish in a tie for 17th at the Open, it did mark a fourth consecutive top 20 finish for the classy Johnson. Despite the fact that this course seems to run contrary to skill set, Johnson has had some excellent results at Firestone. He finished second here last year and a fourth-place finish in 2013.

Webb Simpson- To Win 55/1, To Place 12/1
Webb Simpson has got to be one of the most amazing rejuvenation stories in recent years. He started the year in solid form before a titanic performance at the unofficial fifth Major of the year: The Players Championship. Simpson was magisterial in plotting his way around the notoriously tricky Sawgrass layout. He followed that up with a tie for 10th at the US Open and a tie for 12th at Carnoustie. He finished in a tie for 14th in 2013 and has perhaps never been in better form than he is now.

Kevin Chappell- To Win 66/1, To Place 14/1
This is one that requires some degree of imagination. Chappell has endured a largely frustrating season and is coming off a fairly horrendous spring. But there has been recent evidence that he could be turning a corner. Four sub 70 rounds at the Travellers were bolstered by an excellent turn at Carnoustie. He was right in the mix at the Open till a late capitulation. Chappell is a tee-to-green specialist who thrives on this layout. He finished with rounds of 69 and 67 en route to a third-place finish in 2016. He finished 13th last season after a horrendous start. Chappell finished second at a similarly driver friendly Muirfield Village a few years ago and he could be a decent sleeper bet this week.

The Man to Beat- Justin Rose- To Win 14/1, To Place 3/1
There is such a good case to be for all the contenders this week, but Rose just seems to have the best symmetry of current form and historical precedent. Rose is currently on a run that reads T2-T9-T10-T6-1. That win came at the Fort Worth Invitational and he came out of nowhere to post the clubhouse lead at Carnoustie last time around. Rose has always been a machine from tee-to-green and his results here reflect that. He has five top 5 finishes around Firestone, including back-to-back top 5’s in 2014 and 2015. His current stats are phenomenal. He sits seventh in strokes gained putting, second in scoring average, fourth in birdie average, 15th in strokes gained around the greens and 12th in strokes gained tee to green.

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Written by Damien Kayat for

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