Course: Firestone Country Club
Yardage: 7,400 (Par 70)
Current Champ: Keegan Bradley
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The crazy summer of golf continues as the 3rd WGC event takes place at the Firestone Country Club in Ohio. One week before the final major of the year, we are all going to be treated to the best in the world fighting it out again for the WGC Bridgestone Invitational title.
An exciting field will assemble and it will be interesting to keep on eye on who does well at The Firestone Country Club, with people often carrying this week’s form into the PGA Championship.
Course form is crucial for this one as well, those who performed well in the past continue to do so year after year.
The course is a 7,400 yard par 70 and is renowned as one of the greatest challenges on tour. The par 4s are long and the par 5 16th lies at 667 yards which is absolutely astonishing. Therefore you would think the longer hitters should be favoured, but in all honesty the usually short Stricker, Zach Johnson, Luke Donald and Matt Kuchar have all done well here in the past, which means ball strikers and GIR specialists should be looked at.
Rain is expected to disrupt play on the opening two days which does mean the bigger hitters will instantly have an advantage with soft ground but hitting those greens has always been the most important statistic for every winner over the past few years.
The greens are relatively large but missing them will make scoring difficult and whilst putting has never been a vital stat here, under pressure those famous yips can come into play!
Obviously the odds of many players are low, but there is always value in these big tournaments, so if you can avoid the allure of 7-time winner Tiger Woods than we do feel the following players are worth a dabble.
Bubba Watson (45/1 Various)
Undoubtedly one of our favourite players and you always know you will get value for your money every time you back him! 2013 so far has been a disappointment; he will be the first to admit. After taking the Masters crown people expected him to push on, but here we are at a WGC event and he finds himself at relatively high odds of 45/1. But after watching him closely for the last few weeks we definitely feel he is on the verge of another victory, and why not at Firestone because he does LOVE it on the big stage. In 5 of his last 7 starts he has finished around the 30 mark, whilst finishing 21st last week. And he recorded a 4th place just over a month ago at the Travelers after seemingly looking in control at one stage, but the infamous outburst at his caddie came about. His passion is undeniable.
Course form is very, very consistent from Bubba finishing 22nd, 21st and 19th last year which ticks another box for us. And he did hold the first round lead in 2010 shooting a 64, so he can go low around here. His well-documented length off the tee will be a great advantage this week and 3rd in GIR, 8th ball striking, 27th scoring average, 31st total driving will help too. We have the distinct feeling this could be Bubba’s week.
Matt Kuchar (25/1 Various)
We’re here again with Kuchar, now comfortably one of the best players in the game. He has already got us 2 wins this year and we see no reason why he cannot make it a third. Regardless of what the American is all about, he enjoys it around Firestone finishing 9th, 19th and 8th last year. Now we have said this week could favour the longer hitters, but Kuchar is definitely under rated off the tee. He averages 285 yards off the tee on tour this year but he will have no worries smashing it well over 300 yards. And as for all other aspects of his game, you can’t ask for much more. 18th strokes gained-putting, 6th scoring average, 5th sand save, 12th scrambling, 2nd par 5 performance and of course 2nd in the Fed Ex Cup standings for 2013.
If anyone enjoys getting on a roll, it’s Kooch. Last time he finished 2nd he went on to win the Memorial Tournament the week after. And he finished 2nd last week… Question marks have been raised over whether Kuchar will go onto bag his first major, but what we do know is that he is dominant outside the big four tournaments. There will be no nerves if he is near the top of the leaderboard come Sunday evening. He will contend for sure.
Henrik Stenson (40/1 PaddyPower)
Henrik Stenson is fully on the comeback trail, now back inside the top 20 in the world, having just missed out on a first major trophy at the Open. His 2nd place finish at Muirfield showed his true class, no one was striking the ball as well and consistently from tee to green and if he can transfer this form onto Firestone, then he will be a genuine contender.
He has now recorded 3 top 10s in a row, contending up till the final few holes in the previous 2 tournaments. He is one of the form golfers in the world at the moment and when you look at his all-round abilities then 40/1 represents great value.
He only lies in 74th for driving distance on the PGA, but he is 9th in Europe, which is a more appropriate ranking considering how far he can boom it. He is 2nd in GIR on the PGA Tour and that proves how well he has been striking the ball and attacking greens. So often we have seen him finding green after green, only faltering with a few putts at times, which has been the difference between 2nd, 3rd and titles. If he can hole his putts and bring his best short game to the fore, then you can expect the Swede to be near the top of the leaderboard come Sunday.
Angel Cabrera (66/1 various)
The enigma that is Angel Cabrera. He only seems to play well at the bigger tournaments, finding that something extra to propel himself to the top of leaderboards. And regularly at that. He has found some remarkable form of late – the last 3 tournaments have resulted in a place no worse than T13. At the Open he once again showed his determination by getting into a potential winning position on the Sunday but sadly not ever really pushing further.
Then when you look at his form on this course, you do stand up and realise that 66/1 is very generous value. He has recorded 3 T4’s here before and shot low scores in the process, so if you bring into play his good recent form, course form and the level head he possesses, you have a potential WGC champion in the making.
He also lies in 33rd for driving distance and 66th in GIR which is a lethal combination. Plus, it is good fund watching Cabrera play – always with a smile on his face!
Paul Casey (100/1 Coral)
This feels great writing about Casey at such a high profile event. The Englishman slipped off the face of the earth after once being ranked 3rd in the world in 2009. Now regardless of form, swing and injury, you don’t just lose that talent. Sure enough a month ago Casey was back, storming to his first title in two years at the Irish Open. He eagled the 72nd hole to claim his victory in style. We watched all four days at what we will say, Casey was incredible off the tee. If he drives that well this week he will be up there on day 4.
Casey at Firestone has recorded 5 top 20’s including an 8th in ’08 and 4th in ’06. He will come here this week knowing he has what it takes to do well around here and knowing he is back to near his best. After all that victory was his 15th win as a professional. His statistics are nothing stand-out on the European Tour, but he does rank 2nd in GIR and 21st in stroke average. At 100/1 it is a price where we see great value and one that could give us a nice little profit at the end of the week.
Martin Laird (100/1 various)
Our last pick is a slight gamble, but we got interested in Laird because he is showing signs that he can challenge alongside the elite in the game. At the Open he was in contention until the 3rd round 81, when a 9 on the par 3 3rd ruined his hopes. Obviously he did win at the Valero Texas Open a few months ago – his 3rd PGA Tour victory and his game could be suited for the Firestone course. He has finished 29th, 11th and 16th in his 3 appearances here and when you think he can hit the ball long and straight – 55th for driving distance – he could put himself in great positions to attack the greens.
At 100/1 he does represent intriguing value and if he wants to fully assert himself in world golf, this would be the perfect starting block.
Quick Mention must go to Richard Sterne (150/1 Ladbrokes) who has been in fine form of late – 21st, 31st, 2nd and 22nd. He can hit the ball a fair distance and his irons are up there with the best on the European Tour, whilst his putting has been impressive on his recent run. If you do have any spare change, then it could be interesting to take a look at the South African!
We have had a brief look at the Reno-Tahoe Open but decided against a preview. There are some very interesting names among the field, including Padraig Harrington but the two we feel could have something to offer are Andres Romero (33/1 various) and Peter Uihlein (25/1). Both are in good form, whilst Romero finished T3 here last year, so they both look great value!