Another week, another huge potential paycheck on a classic course. This week the boys jet into lovely Akron, Ohio, for the World Golf Championship Bridgestone Invitational, a 78-player field with almost all of the best players in the world (and a few guys who will leave you asking: How did he get here again?).
The $1.4 million winner's check makes it as valuable as any major championship, and since there's no cut this week gamers need to get a big payday. Obviously any of the big guns could win this one, but for those who have bad memories, this is basically Tiger Woods' home course. He's won here seven times. He holds the tournament record for 72-hole score (-21) as well as the highest winning score (+1), so he can win here no matter how the course is playing or what the conditions bring. Speaking of which...
Like the rest of the Midwest, oppressive heat has dried out golf courses and Firestone is no exception. The 7,400-yard par-70 will play much shorter than its yardage indicates, although it also means there's a chance of thunderstorms like everywhere else in the middle of the country this time of year and that could change. Either way, length off the tee and precise irons into large greens are paramount this week.
Let's get into the picks, and be sure to check the field
-- you don't want to get caught with your pants down this week. Webb Simpson
is really the only big gun not playing this week.
10. Lots of guys could go here: Dustin Johnson, Bo Van Pelt, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Jason Dufner… each should be solid. But I'm going with John Senden. Although he doesn't have any history on this course, he's been great in the WGC events this year (two top-10's) and limited field events in general (including a 2nd at the BMW late last year). He hits it far and very straight, the right combo for Firestone and most non-Golden Tee courses.
9. Justin Rose. A t2 finish in 2006 at Firestone was the high water mark for him. He's 26th in total driving, 5th in all-around ranking. If he can get a few more putts to drop this week he should be in good shape after a disastrous British Open.
8. Louis Oosthuizen. Firestone should fit this bomber's eye. He's been very hit or miss this year, but had a T9 here in 2010 and is coming off of a solid performance at Royal Lytham (T19). He's also proven that he can win on firm and fast courses.
7. Hunter Mahan. The 2010 winner is always a solid choice when total driving (ranks 3rd) and ball striking (ranks 3rd in GIR%) are at a premium. Besides his win, he has two other top-10's in Akron.
6. Nick Watney. He's been solid here the last two years, and has looked a lot more like himself of late with top-25's in his last four events.
5. Nicolas Colsaerts. Sticking to my word about how I would play him the next time he played in the U.S., and Firestone is a perfect fit for the Belgian Bomber's game. He's currently fifth on the Order of Merit, finished seventh at the British Open, has eight top-10's this year and leads the Euro Tour in driving distance (317.1 yards). If you get the chance to watch him this weekend, do it -- he's going to be a big star soon.
4. Steve Stricker. Distance off the tee isn't his game, but with firm conditions this week it shouldn't be much of a factor. He's also played well here the last three years (all top-15's) and hasn't finished worse that 23rd in his last four events this summer.
3. Matt Kuchar. Two appearances here: T19 in 2011 and T9 in 2010. He's also an ATM machine on Tour, so anything outside of the top-15 would be surprising. He hasn't missed a cut since the Canadian Open -- in 2011 (23 events). He's due for a win, too.
2. Adam Scott. The defending champ is going to get a lot of questions this week about the British Open collapse and if he's over it. I'm betting his laid-back demeanor and new regimen of playing less and practicing more will help him bounce back quickly. All he's missing this year is a win -- he only has three finishes this year worse than 17th and his last two tourneys were the British (2nd) and AT&T (3rd).
1. Tiger. He's won here about 32 times. OK, not really, but his seven victories at Firestone are pretty impressive. I'll give him a pass the last two years when he hasn't had his game in order. Picking against him here is like going against Stricker at the John Deere -- you can do it, but it's not all that wise.
Player to avoid: Rory McIlroy. Rors could win any time, and his game showed plenty of flashes at Lytham two weeks ago. But it's just tough to trust him right now, even if Firestone fits his game perfectly and he's been in the top-10 the last two years.
Good picks last week: Scott Piercy (Another winner! Hey now!); Chris Kirk (T4); Scott Stallings (T7); Seung-yul Noh (T15); Ken Duke (T19); Overall, 8/10 on the week.
Not so good: Ben Curtis and Sean O'Hair both decided they didn't like Canada and wanted to leave Hamilton G&CC as quickly as possible. Hopefully they had full body cavity searches at the airport.
Photo: US Presswire