- The last World Golf Championship of the year, and the last edition of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, comes this week. Here's everything you need to know.
Meaty PGA Tour events just don’t stop coming in the summer. After most top players took a brief post-Open respite as play shifted north of the border—where Dustin Johnson had one of those tournaments where he looks like he’s playing a different, much easier sport than the rest of the field—all the stars are back in action this week. It’s the final edition of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, as the fourth WGC (joining the HSBC Champions, Dell Technologies Match Play and Mexico Championship) next year will be the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational in Memphis.
This tournament, and Firestone Country Club in general, has become synonymous with Tiger Woods because the man has won it an astonishing eight times, most recently in 2013, his last win on the PGA Tour. He’ll have a chance to make it nine this week after barely squeaking into the field by managing T-6 at the British Open, a finish good enough to get him into the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking and thus an exemption into this week. Woods headlines a field that includes 49 of the world's top 50 players. A win this week doesn’t come with the same prestige as a major triumph, but the man standing in the winner’s circle Sunday will have beaten all the best players in the sport.
Hideki Matsuyama is the defending champion, as he scored a five-shot win over Zach Johnson last year on the strength of a breathtaking final-round 61. The 26-year-old has struggled a bit this year, with just one top-10 on the season, and he’s dropped from a career-high world ranking of No. 2 all the way down to 16th.
Here’s everything you need to know about this last hurrah in Northeast Ohio.
Located in a certain NBA player’s hometown of Akron, Ohio, Firestone Country Club is a three-course complex originally established in 1929 by Harvey Firestone as a recreational park for the employees of his eponymous tire and rubber company. The South course, which is the venue this week, opened that year before Robert Trent Jones oversaw a comprehensive redesign for the 1960 PGA Championship. That was the first of three PGAs played on the South—1960, 1966 and 1975.
As currently constructed, it’s a 7,400-yard par-70 beast that Arnold Palmer famously called a “monster.” It’s a classic American parkland design, with tree-lined fairways guarded by thick rough, intermittent water hazards, big bentgreens surrounded by bright-white bunkers and a bunch of long par 4's. There are only two par 5's on the course—the second hole will be reachable for virtually the entire field, while the 667-yard 16th is one of the longer par 5’s you’ll find anywhere in the world.
The 18th hole has become something of a signature hole because of the fantastic finishes it has hosted. The most famous: Tiger’s shot in the dark to two feet in 2000. He’d won the PGA the week before for his third consecutive major (he’d complete the Tiger Slam at the ’01 Masters) and was at the height of his powers. An iconic moment.
As stated previously, every player ranked inside the top 50 is teeing it up at Firestone this week. That’s a testament both to the health of the World Golf Championships, which are firmly established as can’t-miss events for the world’s best, and the health of golfers in general right now.
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is there, fresh off his three-shot victory at the Canadian Open. He won this event in 2016. Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm, Francesco Molinari, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day round out the top-10 players competing.
Keep an eye on the Ryder Cup bubble guys in the field this week. This event counts for both the U.S. and European teams' point systems, so a high finish could see a player currently outside the automatic-qualifying positions surge up the standings. On the U.S. side, Webb Simpson holds a narrow lead for the eighth spot over Bryson DeChambeau. Phil Mickelson is in 10th, followed by Xander Schauffele, Matt Kuchar, Kevin Kisner and Tony Finau. On the European side, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Thorbjorn Olesen and Russell Knox stand the most to gain (Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia are also on the outside looking in, but those guys project as almost surefire captain’s picks).
Virtually every pairing this week—because of the limited field size of 73 players, players will go out in twosomes all week long rather than just on the weekend—is a "marquee" one, but here is a selection of some of the highest-profile duos slated for Thursday and Friday. A full list of tee times can be found here:
Jordan Spieth, Matthew Fitzpatrick - 10:00 a.m. Thursday/1:50 p.m. Friday*
Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama - 10:10 a.m.*/2:00 p.m.
Tiger Woods, Jason Day - 10:20 a.m.*/2:10 p.m.
Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose - 1:50 p.m./10:00 a.m.*
Justin Thomas, Phil Mickelson - 2:00 p.m./10:10 a.m.*
Dustin Johnson, Francesco Molinari - 2:10 p.m./10:20 a.m.*
* denotes 10th tee start
Tiger, Tiger, Tiger, Tiger, Tiger. Not really. But kind of.
2017 - Hideki Matsuyama (-16)
2016 - Dustin Johnson (-6)
2015 - Shane Lowry (-15)
2014 - Rory McIlroy (-15)
2013 - Tiger Woods (-15)
2012 - Keegan Bradley (-13)
2011 - Adam Scott (-17)
2010 - Hunter Mahan (-12)
2009 - Tiger Woods (-12)
2008 - Vijay Singh (-10)
2007 - Tiger Woods (-8)
2006 - Tiger Woods (-10)
2005 - Tiger Woods (-6)
2004 - Stewart Cink (-11)
2003 - Darren Clarke (-12)
2002 - Craig Parry (-16)
2001 - Tiger Woods (-12)
2000 - Tiger Woods (-21)
1999- Tiger Woods (-10)
Via Oddsshark.com, where a full list of odds can be found.
Dustin Johnson +700 - Absolutely dominant last week in Canada, firmly the man to beat
Rory McIlroy +1200 - Five top-10s in seven career starts at Firestone
Tiger Woods +1200 - Have you guys heard that he plays well at Firestone?
Jordan Spieth +1800
Rickie Fowler +2000
Justin Thomas +2000 - Meh history at Firestone and a MC at Carnoustie, has his odds low
Jason Day +2200
Jon Rahm +2500
Francesco Molinari +2500 - Been the hottest player in the world this summer
Tommy Fleetwood +2500
Brooks Koepka +2800 - Worth remembering that he only has one non-major PGA Tour win
Henrik Stenson +3500
Alex Noren +3500
Hideki Matsuyama +4000 - Defending champion has had a disappointing 2018
Patrick Reed +4000
Bubba Watson +4500
Paul Casey +4500
Xander Schauffele +4500
Zach Johnson +5000
Tony Finau +5000 - Bound to win a big one soon
Bryson DeChambeau +5500 - The bad: a true meltdown last week in Germany. The good: led for roughly 68 holes
Webb Simpson +6000
Favorite to avoid: Jordan Spieth. I'm just not sold on the turnaround yet, probably because that birdieless 76 on Sunday at Carnoustie will take a lot of time to get over. His results at Firestone are just fine—49, T-10, T3, T-13 in his four starts—and he's an all-time great, so his contending won't ever be a surprise. But Carnoustie was an awesome fit for his game, and his ascent up the leaderboard on Friday and Saturday was due to his guile and scoring ability rather than pure ballstriking. It's a totally different ballgame at Firestone.
Sleeper worth a wager: Tommy Fleetwood at 25-1 is a good bet any week, and I love the form he's carrying. His last three starts on this side of the pond: T-6 in Canada, T-2 at the U.S. Open and T-7 at the Players. Fleetwood finished T-28 last year in his debut at Firestone, but he's a markedly better, more consistent player than he was this time last year.
Tiger: Feels like the elephant in the room should be addressed here. I think Tiger will contend this week but fall just short. His game's in great shape, his confidence is sky-high, he couldn't feel more comfortable at a course. There's really no reason why he can't win, but I'm shying away just because I like the following player a litttle more this week...
The pick: Rory McIlroy. He was ridiculed a bit for suggesting that he simply ran out of holes at the British Open, but I buy it—had that tournament gone another 18 holes, he'd have been the winner. What does that mean? That when he's firing, he (Dustin Johnson aside, maybe) can still go lower than anyone else. He plays big parkland courses very well, he's won before at Firestone and, perhaps most importantly, he looks like he's returning to the free-wheeling style that saw him catapult to the top of the sport. Rory Mac picks up his second win of the year, his third WGC and establishes himself as the favorite heading into next week's PGA.