World Golf Championship events always bring elite fields and with the PGA Championship a week away, 49 of the top 50 players are in Akron, Ohio for the Bridgestone Invitational.
A seven time roar
The majority of golf fans know that a field is elite when Tiger Woods declares for a tournament. Now ranked second overall, Woods comes to Firestone Country Club having won the Bridgestone Invitational seven times, which ties the most wins in a single tournament among his 74 PGA Tour victories.
Woods had a disappointing result last year tying for 37th place, however a lot has changed in a year for him.
“I didn’t play most of the summer last year,” Woods said. “I was off. This was my first tournament back. I think last year when I played Thursday, that was my first 18 holes walking a golf course, so a little different scenario this year. I’ve had a little better year, and overall just feel infinitely better than what I did physically last year.”
Off is certainly not a way to describe Woods, a three time winner. Now a ‘comfortable’ Woods comes to Firestone, which gives many the feel that this is his tournament to lose.
“I look forward to playing it,” Woods said of Firestone. “This is one of my favorites. It’s straightforward. It’s right in front of you. There’s no tricks. There’s no hidden things.”
Three’s the magic number for this group
The Bridgestone Invitational will have 80 golfers and no cut. Players will go off in groups of two. While pairings such as Ernie Els/Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson/Luke Donald will attract large galleries, the Tiger Woods/Branden Grace pairing may be the most interesting pairing.
Grace, who came through the Ernie Els Foundation which also helped out Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, both major winners has won three times on the European Tour this season, his first victories on the tour.
Grace was able to win the Joburg Open January 15 and then one week later won Volvo Golf Champions by defeating Retief Goosen and Els in a playoff.
With both players in the pairing having the most wins this season, it could be wind up being a low scoring group.
“I heard a rumor at the beginning of the week that that’s what they’re going to try to do… I didn’t really think it was going to happen but it’s unreal,” Grace said. “He’s my idol. He’s been my role model since I started playing golf. Tomorrow is a little bit of a dream come true.”
Woods is not aware of this but seemed intrigued at the chance to meet Grace.
“I don’t know Branden at all, so it’ll be fun to get out there and chitchat a little bit with him and get to know him,” Woods said. “I’ve seen him play, I’ve seen him swing, but never been paired with him. It’ll be a good next couple days for us. I know I am looking forward to it, and hopefully he is as well.”
Els wants to improve at Bridgestone
Much of Open Champion Ernie Els’ press conference consisted about questions about runner up Adam Scott’s performance down the stretch that led to a different winner then anticipated.
There was a question about Els and his approach to the week and it seems as though Els is trying to treat this tournament as more than a tune up to next week’s PGA Championship.
“… although I love this event and this golf course, I don’t have a great record here,” Els said. “I’ll really play this week with next week in mind but really try and do better here this week. I haven’t had a top 10 or sniffed a top 5 here for many, many years, so I’d actually love to have a decent week here this week.
Inconsistent McIlroy comes to one of favorite courses
World number three Rory McIlroy has had his ups and downs this year, but comes into Firestone, a place where he has two top-10 finishes.
He thinks very highly of the course even tweeting to his followers on Twitter that Firestone Country Club has one of the best practice facilities on Tour.
“I love this event,” McIlroy said. “I think it’s one of the best events we plays all year and definitely one of the best courses. I come in here with a couple good finishes behind me, and I feel like I’m hitting the ball pretty well.”
Defending champ Scott copes with Open loss
Adam Scott may not fully have fully recovered from losing the Open Championship by bogeying each of the last four holes of the tournament, but he was able to take some time away from the game.
“I was in Switzerland at home last week, which was quite good, kind of got away from everything for a few days up in the Alps,” Scott said.
Lost in the whole collapse is the fact that not only had Scott been playing solid golf, but also is the defending champion at the Bridgestone Invitational. It will be hard to repeat though as only Tiger Woods has defended his title at Firestone.
‘Pimp’ Piercy joins Bridgestone field after winning RBC Canadian Open
Piercy, now ranked 58th will tee off with Tongchai Jaidee on the first tee and help start the afternoon wave of players. By hanging on to win Sunday, he now finds himself in the field at the Bridgestone Invitational.
“I guess I didn’t realize what a big event it was until I won it, and it’s just amazing and I’m so excited,” Piercy said. “It was a great week, and I think the longer I get removed from the tournament, the more I realize kind of what I’ve done.”
As a result, Piercy will not be able to defend his Reno-Tahoe Open title. Still he has been the recipient of many voice mails including one from comedian George Lopez.
“He said ‘Way to go pimp. We both know you’re the pimp and not me,” Piercy said.
Bradley goes back to the place of his biggest disappointment
Keegan Bradley won the PGA Championship last year, his first major, but not before a disappointing finish at Firestone that may have provided fuel to the fire.
“I was so upset with the way I finished the tournament,” Bradley said. “I remember talking to Pepsi, my caddie, on the range on Monday saying I want to win this tournament, I don’t want to feel this way anymore. I really felt devastated here last year. I think in the long run it really, really helped me. Because I was there in contention and then it all fell apart, and then on Sunday at the PGA when I made that triple I kind of knew how to handle it a little better.”
Note: Only player in the top 50 that is not at Firestone Country Club is current US Open Champion Webb Simpson. Simpson’s wife gave birth on Saturday.
Inside the ropes:
Senden hopes consistency equals a win
John Senden is one of the more consistent players on the PGA Tour and always seems to be lurking close to the top of the leaderboard.
Still minus a win in 2006, Senden has not been able to get into the winner’s circle.
However he believes he has reasons for why he always finds himself in contention when it matters.
“I try to work hard on my game all of the time and try to put 100% and never give up,” Senden said. “I am still enjoying the game, so that keeps me going.”
Solid as a rock
Robert Rock may be ranked 63rd in the world, but he knows how to close. In addition to a tie for seventh place in the 2010 Open Championship, Rock won this year’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship by one stroke over McIlroy. In addition he was tied with Woods for the lead heading into the final round.
The hard fought victory means that Rock is making his first appearance at the Bridgestone Invitational. Already he thinks very highly of the course.
“Excellent,” Rock said. “It’s nice to come down to a really old and established course. Immediately one of my favorites I think.”
They said it:
The following quotes were collected in response to the players thoughts on the 16th hole. It is a par 5 that plays 667 yards.
Martin Kaymer: “I think it would be better if they moved the tee 30 or 40 yards forward because then it actually makes you think about going for the green. You have to place the second shot between the bunker and the water hazard to give yourself a good chance for a birdie.”
David Toms: “Get it in the fairway because if you get it in the rough, you will have a hard time saving par.”
John Senden: “It’s sort of a strong par 5 – a three shotter on most days. It’s a real challenging par 5 and a pivotal point in the tournament.”
Robert Rock: “It’s a three shotter for me. Two two-irons and a wedge, I would hit something like that.”
Sergio Garcia: “If they move the tees up a little bit and it’s a little firm then you can catch the right side of the fair way. You can get it all the way down and reach it in two. If it’s soft or a little into the wind, that comes out of play. It’s a driver and maybe a 7 iron and a wedge in. it’s a nice hole.”
Marc Leishman: “I hit a drive down there today and it went 365 yards and I still couldn’t get home for two. It’s a tough hole but if you hit two shots and put yourself in position, then you have a chance for a birdie.”
On what winning the WGC Bridgestone Invitational would mean to them:
Jonathan Byrd: “It would be the biggest win in my career.”
Sergio Garcia: “It would be great to win on this kind of golf course. It’s always amazing, so it would be very nice.”
Martin Laird: “It would be huge. It is one of the biggest events of the year. Outside of the majors, the WGC events are right there. If you win on this golf course, you know you’ve played well.”
John Senden: “A win here would be great because I have never won a world event. It always opens a lot of doors for a lot of other events and doing it on the world stage would be fabulous.”
On the course
Martin Kaymer: “A lot of people here over the years have said that this golf course is in great shape. The last five years, it’s always been fantastic. I have a lot of respect for the people working here.”
David Toms: “It’s fun to come here. Small field and you get four rounds to try and make something happen so you will see guys that are not necessarily out of it after one round.”
Martin Laird: “You’ve got to drive it well around here. The golf course is so long and the rough’s pretty thick. If you’re not in the fairway, you’ve really got no shot around here.”
Jonathan Byrd: “They’re [the greens] extremely fast. I’ve been surprised so far how fast they are, definitely faster than last year.”
Two humorous moments:
1. Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Keegan Bradley and Ben Crane were playing their practice round together, and that usually means it was two-on-two with a financial wager on the line.
Mickelson’s tee shot on 18 missed the fairway and went wide left. He crossed the rope and inspected his shot.
“Do you even have a shot,” Dustin Johnson shouted in his direction.
“No,” Mickelson quickly replied.
Mickelson of course then played the shot using a punch shot to clear the trees and into the rough. His team supposedly won.
2. Jim Furyk was finishing up his practice round on the ninth hole and was going through his bag to search for a Sharpie so that he could sign items for fans.
“Go Steelers,” a fan shouted knowing Furyk was a Steelers fan.
Furyk then looked up at the fan and smiled.
Being that the tournament was in Akron, Ohio, Cleveland Browns territory, a fan quickly showed her displeasure at the gesture.