WGC Bridgestone Invitational
It was a solid enough week for us in Canada with Ben An coming up just short with a second place finish.
Even though he was squaring up to DJ on Sunday based on An’s solid play for the first three rounds and allowing for Dustin’s propensity to occasionally wobble when in pole position I was cautiously optimistic going in to the last round.
Unfortunately though Ben made a sloppy start bogeying the easy par 5 2nd hole and just like that DJ had a three shot lead.
From there on in even though An played reasonably well for the rest of the round DJ did all that was required and basically nursed his lead home.
So we move on and it’s a busy week ahead on the PGA Tour with two events to look at. Firstly we have the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone CC, which I am focusing on in this preview, then we have the Barracuda Championship which I will be previewing tomorrow.
The WGC Bridgestone Invitational was first held at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, in 1976 under the guise of the NEC World Series of Golf.
This continued through to 1999 when the event then became one of the new WGC tournaments.
This year however marks the end of an era as it will be the last event held at Firestone Country Club with the tournament moving to TPC Southwind next year, the current home of the Fedex St Jude Classic.
All of the historical editions have been played at the South Course at Firestone except for the 2002 event which was played at Sahalee Country Club in Washington.
Apart from 2016 when the schedule was tweaked due to the Olympics the event has for many years now served as the final warm up for the last major of the season, the PGA Championship.
This is again the case this year and all of the big names will be looking to fine tune their game before they head to St Louis next week.
As is customary for a WGC event we have a stellar field on show with, barring any last minute injuries/illnesses, all of the world’s top 50, who are automatically eligible, present.
The remainder of the field is made up of players who have won on the PGA Tour this season or who have won other specific events on the world stage, which earned them exemption.
At the time of writing the betting market is headed up by DJ with Rory, Tiger and Justin Rose next in line.
For Tiger to be back at this place in the market so soon in to his comeback is a testament to what a great year he has had.
Firestone Country Club South Course is a par 70 measuring 7400yds.
The greens are Bent/Poa Annua.
The course was designed by Bert Way in 1928 before being renovated by Robert Trent-Jones in 1960.
The course is a long, tough, par 70 with narrow tree lined fairways and greens that will run up to 13 on the stimpmeter.
There are two par 5s on the course, the 2nd hole, which is a definite birdie opportunity and the monster 677yd 16th, which is a 3 shot hole for pretty much all of the field.
So let’s take a look at the last ten winners since 2008.
The winners of these events have been as follows;
2017 H Matsuyama
2016 D Johnson
2015 S Lowry
2014 R McIlroy
2013 T Woods
2012 K Bradley
2011 A Scott
2010 H Mahan
2009 T Woods
2008 V Singh
As well as his two wins in this two year span Tiger Woods ‘owned’ this event through the early 2000s and he had a further six wins to his name between 1999-2007, making it an incredible, eight, [yes eight!] wins in the event all told.
As we can see though whilst the list of winners over the last ten years includes along with Tiger, other members of the games elite such as Hideki, DJ, Rory, Adam Scott & VJ, there has been room for a couple of more shock results in the form of Shane Lowry and Keegan Bradley’s wins.
By and large though the as to be expected for a WGC the event has been the domain of the ‘big guns’.
So let’s then try and see if there is anything in the history, which will give us some pointers.
First let’s look at course form. Well, interestingly [other than with Tiger!] previous course form has not been a big requisite with recent winners as you can from the table below, which shows up to five previous starts in the event [depending on how many times they had previously played the event] for the winners prior to their win over the past 10yrs [excluding Tiger].
2017 Matsuyama 42 37 12 21
2016 D Johnson 53 33 19 48 15
2015 Lowry 48 77
2014 McIlroy 27 5 6 9 68
2012 Bradley 15
2011 Scott 9 52 56 36 10
2010 Mahan 4 10 22
2008 Singh 56 45 3 32 6
As you can see from this despite the list of big name winners not one of them had ‘telegraphed’ their win by finishing 2nd or 3rd the year before.
Neither of the past two winners had even had a top 10 at Firestone prior to their win so, considering their standing in the game and also considering this is a 75 runner field you would have every right to say that actually Hideki and DJ weren’t suited to the track before they won here.
The message here therefore is don’t let the lack of course form put you off.
Conversely now lets take a look at the current form of the recent winners…Here are the previous three starts leading in of the past 10 winners with their most recent listed first.
2017 Matsuyama 14 2 45
2016 D Johnson 1 5 3
2015 Lowry MC 31 9
2014 McIlroy 1 14 76
2013 Woods 6 32 65
2012 Bradley 34 46 29
2011 Scott 25 3 MC
2010 Mahan 17 37 MC
2009 Woods 1 MC 1
2008 Singh MC 5 65
So what does this tell us? Well three of these players had won in their previous three starts whilst five more of them had notched a top ten finish in their previous three starts with only Mahan & Bradley not having done so.
Mahan had however won earlier in the year at the Phoenix Open and Bradley had four top 10s to his name that year so both were clearly in good nick.
In fact on the subject of wins it’s worth noting that six of the past ten winners had already won on the PGA Tour that calendar year.
All in all then it’s pretty clear to me that to find the winner here we need to be looking for a player who has had a really good solid year.
Furthermore looking at the list of winners as a whole it is clear that the type of player we are looking for is someone who, when on form, is straight and longish of the tee, basically a really good ball striker. [Again the only outlier to this is Tiger who even in his heyday wasn’t the straightest of drivers]
From a winning score point of view as always this has been driven by the course conditions over the years.
Last year we saw soft conditions and this resulted in Hideki’s winning total of -16, which culminated in his incredible final round of 61.
The previous year however conditions were far tougher and this resulted in DJ winning with a total of -6, which even included a +3 round of 73.
On average though somewhere around the -11 to -13 mark has been the winning number over the past 10yrs.
At the time of writing, touch wood, the four tournament days appear to be free of storms although there are showers in the forecast for Friday.
Tuesday and Wednesday leading in though do show a potential for storms so it is likely the players will face a soft golf course come Thursday morning. This inevitably will lead to lower scoring.
Wind does not look to be an issue with nothing more than 9mph in the forecast all week as I type.
Before we get to this weeks selections it would be foolish of me to move on without a few words on Tiger.
After his performance at Carnoustie got him in to this week’s field at the eleventh hour you have to think he will be in great spirits as he returns to arguably his favourite stop on tour.
I am in no doubt if you had offered Tiger the season he has had at the beginning of the year he would have bitten your hand off and regardless, [assuming he stays healthy], to what happens results wise for the rest of the season, 2018 has been a huge success for him on the golf course.
The icing on the cake now would naturally be a win and if one is going to come this season Firestone CC is arguably the most likely venue for it to happen at.
It will be fascinating to see how he performs this week on the back of Carnoustie as he is basically now expected to win.
What will be of particular interest to me this week is how his driver holds up, as he was largely able do without this club at the Open.
Due to my doubts over him with the driver coupled with the fact that he has shown some signs of fragility every time he has been in the hunt this year I am passing on him this week. Time will tell if that proves to be the right move or not….
So I have gone with four players this week as follows;
DUSTIN JOHNSON –15-2 - 3pts win FINISHED 3rd
I highlighted earlier in my piece that current form to me is the key ingredient coming in this week and DJ certainly has that after his dominant performance in Canada.
Whilst Glen Abbey is a pushover as courses on the PGA tour go it is not the easiest of courses to find fairways and this is one of the reasons bombers fair well there, in that they can gouge it out of the rough from shorter distances.
DJ though did not need to rely on this tactic as, as well as finishing the week 6th in Driving Distance, he finished it 4th in Driving Accuracy. For what it’s worth he was then also 1st in GIR for the week.
Basically he had it on a string all week tee to green in Canada and once some putts started to drop there was an air of inevitability about the result.
I also mentioned earlier that historical course form does not appear to be a huge issue and the interesting point I noted with the big name players who have won at Firestone over recent years is that their win has come when they’ve been on a roll.
If we look at Dustin he is the perfect example of this.
In 2015 he arrived at Firestone on the back of the huge disappointment of Chambers Bay and a subsequent 49th at the Open and he duly finished 53rd.
In 2017 he was struggling to regain any momentum after his ‘staircase mishap’ at the Masters and had missed the cut at the US Open and finished 54th at the Open Championship. He duly finished 17th here.
In 2016 however DJ was on one of his rolls having finished 3rd, 5th and then 1st at the US Open in his previous three starts and he subsequently landed the title here on his next start.
We have seen with DJ as we do with a lot of the other top players these days that they go on these winning streaks and Dustin demonstrated again in 2017 when he won on three consecutive starts that he can do this.
On this basis If DJ can bring his long game from Canada to Ohio this week I am confident he can build further on the momentum and add another trophy to his cabinet.
JUSTIN ROSE – 14 -1 – 1 ½ pts E/W – 1/5 odds 1st 7 WITHDREW BEFORE START
Continuing with the theme of inform elite players, next up for me this week is Englishman Justin Rose.
Rose has quietly worked his way up to second place on the OWGR and his recent form figures on the PGA Tour read 2 10 6 1.
Considering he had to birdie his final hole on Friday last time out at Carnoustie to make the cut his performance at the weekend was inspired and he will have taken huge encouragement from this.
Again like DJ when Justin has been playing poorly he has performed poorly at Firestone, however when he has come in to the week here in good touch he has performed well here.
Perfect examples of this were in 2015 when in his previous two starts to the Bridgestone he had finished 6th & 4th and he then finished 3rd here, whilst in 2014 he finished 4th here on the back of a 23rd place finish and a win in his previous two PGA starts.
We have seen from the list of past winners here that as a whole Firestone is a ball strikers paradise and this year Justin’s long game has been exemplary.
He currently sits 17th in Strokes Gained Off The Tee and 12th in Strokes Gained Tee to Green.
In addition his historical nemesis the putter has been working really well for him this year and he currently ranks 7th in SGP on the PGA Tour.
Again, similarly to DJ, if Rose can bring his long game form to Firestone this week and hole his share of putts it is hard to not see him going close to lifting the trophy.
KEVIN CHAPPELL – 90-1 – 1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 6 FINISHED 39th
The third player to make our team this week is Californian Kevin Chappell.
After a really solid early part of the year things tailed of badly for Chappell around the time of the WGC Matchplay when he withdrew with an injury.
From the Masters through to the US Open Kevin missed five out of six cuts however he finished 65th at Shinnecock Hills and 30th at the Greenbrier before really springing to life at Carnoustie.
At Carnoustie Chappell went in to the final round in 4th place just two shots of the lead and whilst he was unable to take advantage of the leaders frailties a closing 73 was good enough for a 6th place finish, his best performance in a major since his 3rd place at the US Open back in 2011.
Kevin as a whole has in fact garnered a reputation as a big event player and in addition to his 3rd at the US Open he also has a 10th place finish to his name in the same event and a 7th at the Masters along with runner up finishes at TPC and the Tour Championship.
With regards to Firestone CC Kevin has made two competitive visits to the course and he has finished 13th and 3rd so clearly the venue fits his eye.
Length of the tee is certainly an advantage here and Kevin is currently 17th on the seasons DD stats.
Chappell has shown over the past few seasons that when he finds his groove he can maintain his momentum and his sole tour win last season came on the back of 7th place and 44th place finishes in his previous two starts, so similar figures to that, which he comes in with this week.
We have seen with Lowry and Bradley over recent years that this event isn’t always won by a top ten player and it is not unrealistic to think that on the back of his great showing at the Open Kevin can add his name to that list this week.
XANDER SCHAUFFELE 50-1 –1pt E/W - 1/5 odds 1st 6 FINISHED 68th
For my final pick this week I am going to jump on board the Xander Schauffele express.
Since finishing 5th at the US Open in the Summer of 2017 and winning the Greenbrier just a few weeks later Xander has done nothing but impress.
Many young players even hugely talented ones tipped for the very top of the game have a lull after landing their first tour title [think Aaron Wise recently], however this was certainly not the case with Xander, in fact since the win at the Greenbrier he has gone from strength to strength.
In his remaining starts on the PGA Tour in the 2016/17 season he finished 20th on his Open Championship debut, 13th on his debut in this event and only missed one cut, oh and then their was the small matter of winning the Tour Championship!
Despite the fact there have been no wins yet the 2017/18 season has been no less impressive to date.
This is because Xander has notched five top 10 finishes including second place finishes at TPC and The Open Championship and a 6th place finish at the US Open.
Apart from the finishes themselves what makes Xander’s performances over the past year even more impressive is the variety of courses he is producing the goods on.
After all think about this for one moment, he delivered a top 5 last year on the long, bombers paradise of Erin Hills and then did similar at the links style Shinnecock Hills this year.
He won on the Donal Ross designed East Lake and finished 2nd at Pete Dye’s Sawgrass, which is known as a track that most of the typical young, big hitters dislike and the older plodders love. Finally he tamed Carnoustie.
What this tells me is two things, one Xander is a ‘big time’ player and two he has an all round game which he can adapt to all types of course.
Currently sitting at 29th in DD like our previous pick Chappell, Schauffele is long of the tee and this will be to his benefit at Firestone.
At the moment Xander is one of those players who you want on side at a nice e/w price in pretty much any big event and having been 13th here on debut last year I am keen to have him in our team this week.
UPDATED 1st AUGUST
TRADER – CHARL SCHWARTZEL FINISHED 31st - BEST PRICE TRADED 80
It’s been a pretty bleak year for Charl as a whole with only a good fortnight at the Wells Fargo and TPC to really show.
At the Open Charl’s frustration showed as he posted on line a comment that he was basically hitting it great but getting bad results, which he put down to confidence.
We often here comments like this from players saying how well they are playing in practice etc, however in this case there was obviously something to Charl’s comments as he went straight from Carnoustie to Germany and finished 9th in the Porsche European Open.
Charl now heads to Firestone with hopefully a boost in his confidence.
The good news moving on from this is that Firestone should be a venue he is happy to be back at as he has notched two top 10 finishes there in his last four starts.
Another reason I like a player like Charl as a trader is whilst his price is big at the moment should he get things going this week because of his pedigree his price will crash very quickly. Basically there is a big upside to him going well.
I am hopeful Charl can build on his showing last week and produce another strong week in Akron.
CURRENTLY TRADING @ 360