Expert Picks for World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational
The World Championship of Golf will host its third event of the season this week. The Bridgestone Invitational will once again be played on the South Course at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. As the longest par-70 course on the schedule, driving distance is an advantage, but not the end-all statistic to look at. Like all WGC events, the field is fully loaded with the best golfers on the planet. With so many top-shelf options, fantasy managers have a long list of big names to sort through.
Steve Stricker [Yahoo Class B] - World Ranking: #98
Over the last two years at Firestone, Stricker has finished with consecutive top-10s. He's won twice this season and owns nine straight top-20s. Despite lacking a punch off the tee, Stricker is stellar on the rest of the course. He ranks first on Tour in strokes gained -- putting, birdie average and scoring average. In addition, Stricker is fifth in All-Around Ranking and is always among the safest players when he's in the field.
Lee Westwood [Yahoo Class B] - World Ranking: #45
After finishing with a share of second at Firestone in 2008, Westwood finished ninth in 2009 but withdrew with a calf injury a year ago during the second round. Prior to missing the cut at The Open Championship, Westwood finished 11th or better in three straight Tour starts. Many top players didn’t see the weekend at the British either, so don't hold that against him. Expect Westwood to rebound and rise to the top of this loaded field.
Rory McIlroy [Yahoo Class A] - World Ranking: #2
Last year at Firestone, McIlroy finished T9 as one of the only players to shoot all four rounds in the 60s. In his last six Tour starts, he won the U.S. Open, finished fifth at the Memorial while adding two other top-15s. Once knocked for struggling to close tournaments, McIlroy laid an epic beat down on the field in the U.S. Open and quickly dismissed any questions about his status among the elite players in the world.
Over his last six starts, Watney has four finishes of 13th or better, including his second victory of the season. However, Watney recently missed the cut at both the U.S. Open and British Open. Last year at Firestone, Watney entered Sunday tied for 10th and finished T16. On Tour, he ranks third in scoring average, fourth in birdie average, fifth in strokes gained – putting and third in All-Around Ranking. Assuming he applies the lessons learned from a year ago, Watney has all the skills to jump straight to the top of the leaderboard.
Luke Donald [Yahoo Class A] - World Ranking: #88
From late February to early June, Donald did not finish outside of top-10 in any of his 10 worldwide starts as he climbed to the No. 1 ranking in the world. Since then, he won the Barclays Scottish Open but finished T45 at the U.S. Open, missed the cut at the British Open and finished T17 at the RBC Canadian Open. Unfortunately, Donald has finished T46 and T45 in his last two starts at Firestone, but did pick up top-10s from 2005-06. Despite ranking second on Tour in scoring average, fourth in strokes gained – putting and ninth in birdie average, Donald is not playing his best golf at the moment while heading to a track that hasn’t been kind to him in recent years.
In addition to being the defending champion of this event, Mahan’s resume at Firestone is highly impressive. He finished T4 in 2009, T10 in 2008 and T22 in 2007. However, Mahan has just one top-30 in his last five starts this season after accumulating eight finishes of 16th or better in 13 stroke play events prior. He currently ranks sixth in birdie average, eighth in greens in regulation percentage and seventh in All-Around Ranking. If you excuse his recent struggles and go solely on the results at Firestone, Mahan slides even further up this list.
Dustin Johnson [Yahoo Class A] - World Ranking: #3
Coming off a share of second place at The Open Championship, Johnson now owns two top-fives in his last three starts. After finishing T22 in this event in 2009, DJ recorded a 15th-place result last year at Firestone. In addition to four consecutive finishes of 23rd or better this season, Johnson ranks second in birdie average, fifth in driving distance, 15th in greens in regulation percentage and 17th in All-Around Ranking. While Johnson struggles to close events out, his overall play makes him one of the top plays this week.
Matt Kuchar [Yahoo Class B] - World Ranking: #20
Don’t look now but Mr. Consistency has just missed his last two cuts. While this is a no-cut event, the bar for Kuchar is always set much higher. Last year was Kuchar’s first start at Firestone. He entered Sunday in third and finished T9. While Kuchar ranks seventh in scoring average, 13th in birdie average and fourth in All-Around Ranking, his recent performance is a bit of a concern which downgrades him slightly.
Charl Schwartzel [Yahoo Class C] - World Ranking: #24
In two career starts at Firestone, Schwartzel has finished no better than T36th. However, the South African has finished 26th or better in his five Tour starts since winning the Masters, including a pair of top-10s in his last three. On Tour, Schwartzel ranks sixth in scoring average and will surely post a career finish this weekend in his third go at the Bridgestone.
Martin Kaymer [Yahoo Class C] - World Ranking: #53
After struggling in his first two starts at Firestone, Kaymer finished T22 last year. Since late June, he has finished T18 at the BMW International Open, fourth at the Alstom Open de France and T12 at The Open Championship. On the European Tour, Kaymer ranks 17th in scoring average and is looking to eventually reclaim the No. 1 ranking he held for a few months early in the year.
Since 1999, Woods has won at Firestone seven times with three other top-five finishes in 11 starts. Of course, he’s coming off an 11-week layoff used to recover from knee and ankle injuries. In addition, Woods recently fired longtime caddie Steve Williams, who was there for 13 of Tiger's 14 major championships. While this is certainly a prime course for Woods to start his comeback, he finished T78 here a year ago. Tiger is the ultimate risk-reward selection this week with so many big questions left for him to answer about the state of his health and overall game.
Phil Mickelson [Yahoo Class B] - World Ranking: #21
After finishing T2 in The Open Championship and not missing a cut all season, Mickelson surprisingly missed the cut at The Greenbrier Classic. Since 2004, Lefty has only finished better than 43rd at Firestone once. On Tour, he ranks sixth in birdie average, 11th in scoring average and 10th in All-Around Ranking. While Mickelson is a threat to strike anytime he’s on the entry list, his poor career numbers at Firestone imply he’ll likely be an overvalued commodity.