We are now at the stage of the season when there are some interesting sub plots at every event. The biggest story for the next two weeks is around the qualification for the US Ryder Cup team – the nine players who automatically qualify for the team finalized after next week’s PGA Championship. Tiger Woods is almost certainly out of contention for the nine and US captain Tom Watson has hinted that Tiger may need to qualify for the Fedex Cup playoffs to make the team as a captain’s pick. Currently Tiger is in 215th place on the Fedex list and needs to break into the top 125 to make the playoffs – with three weeks till the cutoff, it’s going to be tough, so he needs something special. The other story is around the world number one spot – Rory McIlroy has the chance this week to return to the summit for the first time since last spring with a win this week.
Of course, there is a golf tournament this week as well – one of the best tournaments of the year. The Bridgestone Invitational is a reduced field tournament of just 76 players which doesn’t feature a halfway cut.
The Players In The Field
All of the big names are here this week – World number one Adam Scott, Open Champion Rory McIlroy, defending champion Tiger Woods, Open runners up in Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth and US Open winner Martin Kaymer.
The WGC Bridgestone Course
This event is played on the South Course at Firestone Country Club, featuring just two par 5’s and four par 4’s making the par 70. The 16th hole is an enormous 667 yards long – not going to get on in two with an iron here.
Since 1999 Tiger Woods has won this tournament an amazing eight times and is the defending champion after winning by seven shots last year. Keegan Bradley won the tournament in 2012 and Adam Scott won in 2011.
What the Stats Tell Us
There is one stat that shouts at us at the Firestone Country club and that is total driving (a combination of distance and accuracy off the tee). Last year the top three in the event were Woods, Stenson and Bradley – Woods finished 17th, Stenson 3rd and Bradley 2nd in total driving last year. I’ll use a combination of this stat, as well as form and tournament form to evaluate my picks this week.
Eight Picks & Sleepers
Adam Scott – The World Number is an easy pick this week. His last 15 starts have seen 11 top 10’s and a worst finish of 38th. A great 66 on the last day of the Open will have given him great confidence and he won the event in 2011 so he knows how to play the course. Total driving this year? 2nd.
Henrik Stenson – Stenson finished second last year and has had five top ten’s in his last seven starts. Despite this, Stenson will be somewhat disappointed with his season so far without a win since the end of last year. 5th in total driving this year, the Swede is a solid high salary pick.
Keegan Bradley – Bradley is a player who knows how to win at Firestone and is hitting some form after a mixed season. Top 5 finishes at the US Open and the Greenbrier Classic as well as a top 20 at the Open are encouraging outings. 12th in total driving.
Martin Kaymer – Kaymer possibly deserves player of the year honors having won both the US Open and the Players Championship. This time last year he was struggling and was down to 36th in the World rankings, but he still managed a top ten finish here. The 2014 Martin Kaymer is a different animal. I can see Kaymer going very close this week.
Graham DeLaet – 3rd in total driving, DeLaet is a player having a good but not great season. Four top ten’s around the turn of the year promised great things, but four missed cuts in his last nine events show a different story. DeLaet had a great home tournament in Canada last week with a top ten finish, in combination with the total driving stat enough to nudge him into my eight.
JB Holmes – Sleeper Holmes is a player who has jumped back into the picture this year after his victory at the Wells Fargo Championship. He is 3rd on driving distance which will be a big help on this course, although his accuracy is not good (169th). A top 20 finish in the US Open to back up this win show a player who can contend if it all comes together.
Russell Henley – Sleeper Henley is a 2 time winner on the PGA tour, his last win coming earlier this year. Henley is an up and down player, his win this year coming off a wretched run of five weeks of finishes outside the top 50. His form is not great at the moment either, however 22nd in total driving looks good this week – something of a gamble.
Fabrizio Zanotti – Sleeper Zanotti is a player who has been something of a journeyman, moving between the challenge tour and the European Tour year on year. Made it onto the European Tour through Q-school again this year and after an average season backed up two top twenty finishes with a win at the BMW International Open (qualifying him for this event) and had a top ten in France the following week. Although no total driving stat on the European tour, Zanotti is solid but not spectacular in distance and accuracy, could be a very good cheap pick.
Notes on Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy – Obviously both of these players hit my radar hard, but in making picks I look for value. Tiger Woods record here is unbelievable, but until he shows some form after his operation I’m happy to leave him out of any roster. McIlroy is obviously on amazing form and came very close to making my list, but when making up a roster you have to leave out great players – I couldn’t pick Scott, McIlroy and Stenson, so Rory missed out mainly on the better records of the other two here.
Rory McIlroy leads the way here after his Open win, followed by Adam Scott and Tiger Woods. Justin Rose is considered the 4th favorite with a group of Sergio Garcia, Rickie Fowler, Henrik Stenson, Jim Furyk and Martin Kaymer following.
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Good luck with your line-ups this week!