2018 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational preview

That is because after this year, the event will move to Memphis, Tenn and be known as the WGC-Fedex St. Jude Invitational, while Bridgestone will sponsor the Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship back in Akron.
The event features one of the top fields of the season with there being a 73-player event and no cut. Among the 73 players is the entire top-50 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Also, 53 have won on the PGA TOUR and 15 of them have won World Golf Championship events, with five of those coming at this event.
Last year’s Bridgestone Invitational was won by Hideki Matsuyama, who fired a 9-under par 61, his lowest PGA TOUR round to win by five shots over Zach Johnson.
The 26-year-old Japanese player, who was two shots behind Zach Johnson and Thomas Pieters, kickstarted his round with an eagle par the par-5 second hole and then made seven birdies from there to close out the victory.
Matsuyama’s 61 is the tournament record for an 18-hole score, matching Tiger Woods (2000, 2013) and Sergio Garcia (2014).
“Last year, a lot of good memories, especially that last round, 9-under 61 and tied the course record, I think,” Matsuyama said through interpreter Bob Turner. “For me, it was a perfect round of golf and I am happy to be back and looking forward to defending.”
The win made Matsuyama one of three players to achive the “Ohio Double” of winning both this event and the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide, the latter of which served as his first career PGA TOUR victory.
This year has not been as kind to Matsuyama who is ranked 86th in the FedExCup point standings and admittedly has not played that well. He is hoping with some effective practice that he can catch some “magic” and achieve success again.
“I have some work to do,” said Matsuyama. “I’ve never been in this position before and so I’m going to have to be — I’ll have to get on my game and play well these last couple of weeks. Hopefully, that can carry through to the TOUR Championship, but again, I’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Last week’s winner at the RBC Heritage Dustin Johnson is also in the field this week. Johnson was the 2016 Bridgestone Invitational champion and has won five WGC events, second most in this week’s field.
Johnson has won 19 times on the PGA TOUR and in terms of the FedExCup point standings can only be caught by Justin Thomas this week.
Tiger Woods’s T6 finish at the Open Championship placed him at 50th in the Official World Golf Ranking allowing him to make this week’s field by the slimmest of margins.
Throughout the season, Woods said it was a goal to play this event given his past success and not wanting to wait to play at Firestone Country Club as a PGA TOUR Champions member. Currently, Woods ranks 47th in the FedExCup points standings.
This event also marks Francesco Molinari’s first PGA TOUR start since his Open Championship win. Since the beginning of July he has moved from 122nd in the FedExCup standings to now being seventh.
Notable tee times
Rafa Cabrera Bello 9:20 1 Tee
Jordan Spieth-Matthew Fitzpatrick 10:00 1 Tee
Rory McIlroy-Hideki Matsuyama 10:10 10 Tee
Tiger Woods-Jason Day 10:20 10 Tee
Matt Kuchar-Tommy Fleetwood 1:40 1 Tee
Henrik Stenson-Justin Rose 1:50 1 Tee
Justin Thomas-Phil Mickelson 2:00 1 Tee
Dustin Johnson-Francesco Molinari 2:10 1 Tee
Our picks

Joe Smeltzer’s picks

1. Francesco Molinari– Why not ride the hot hand? In addition to Molinari’s win at the Open Championship last week, he preceded that with a great performance at the Quicken Loans National three weeks prior, winning the tournament by eight strokes. Molinari was the first Italian-born player to win a major and with his win at the Quicken Loans National was the first Italian player to win a PGA TOUR event since Toney Penna in 1947. Molinari has the right mindset to perform well in any tournament, and combined with his improved putting, he is certainly capable of keeping his recent hot streak going at the Bridgestone.

2. Hideki Matsuyama– Last year’s Bridgestone Invitational champion hasn’t won since his 16-under par performance at this event last year, but as the 16th ranked player in this week’s Official World Golf Rankings, Matsuyama is due to get back on track at some point. He proved that he is capable of conquering Firestone last summer, and with his current standing of 86th in the FedExCup standings, perhaps another trip to Akron might just be what he needs to return to the win column and gain some momentum towards the FedExCup playoffs.

3. Tiger Woods– He has to win a tournament eventually, right? Tiger has won the Bridgestone Invitational a record eight times and is responsible for maybe the most dominant performance in Firestone history with his -21 performance in 2000. Woods showed in the Open Championship that he has plenty of golf left in him, and it is also worth noting that his last TOUR win came at Firestone back in 2013. Tiger is still capable, so win number nine at Firestone might be on the way.

Sleeper Zach Johnson– The 2015 Open Champion finished second at Firestone last year and preceded that with a top-10 finish in 2016. Johnson has not been in the winner’s circle since that Open Championship triumph, however he is one of the best in the business and has some solid performances at Firestone, so maybe the magic will return for Johnson this week.

Zac’s picks

1. Rory McIlroy-This pick I believe has a lot of merit to it. For one, McIlroy won this event in 2014 which certainly goes far when it comes to course knowledge. Secondly, this is around the time that McIlroy picks up his game and a tie for second at the Open Championship a couple of weeks ago certainly supports that trend. With the Ryder Cup around the corner, McIlroy’s game has shown glimpses of top form and on a course where everything is right in front of you, this pick makes sense.

2. Dustin Johnson– It is understood that there has not been a golfer that has won in consecutive weeks since Justin Thomas in January 2017 in Hawaii but if any golfer, were to do it, it would be Dustin Johnson. Johnson won last week’s RBC Heritage, good for his 19th victory on the PGA TOUR and won this event in 2016. Johnson seems to have shown little effect from missing the Open Championship cut and furthered his advantage at the top-ranked player on TOUR.

3. Xander Schauffele– Initially this spot was going to go to Jon Rahm because this course suits his game well but Schauffele placed T13 at last year’s event with no round being above 70. Schauffele showed a lot of determination at the Open Championship and his game is in good form.

Sleeper Tiger Woods– Based on what has been seen throughout the season, this is a pick which has merit. Woods has had a lot of experience at Firestone Country Club and no one has been able to approach his level of success at the track. There is something to be said for Woods going from being ranked 674th earlier this year to being ranked 50th after Open Championship play. This is a great opportunity to Woods who will not be satisfied reaching his goal of playing here. There are Ryder Cup spots to be had and it would be safe to say he will want to be both a vice captain and a player.

Jason Havelka’s picks

Xander Schauffele – He has had a nice season. This is a course that can be had by someone that is long and accurate.  He fits the bill when analyzing his last handful of starts.

I like Tony Finau for nearly the exact same reason. I just think he will break through again in the next couple weeks….

Brooks Koepka will rebound this week to compete, possibly win this thing. He needs to pack putter this week and go low.

Longshot has to be Kevin Kisner. He is not normally a longshot pick, but with this lineup he fits the bill.

Brian Stefan’s picks

1. Dustin Johnson– How do I not pick him at this point? He has been playing great this summer, with the exception of the Open Championship and he arrives at a venue he has previously won at. The course conditions this week lend to his length more than usual.

2. Rory McIlroy– He has five top-10 finishes including a win in 2014 at Firestone. He is starting to round into the form that makes him a threat to win every time he tees it up.

3. Xander Schauffele– I am riding the big event hot hand here. He was T6 at the U.S. Open at T2 at the Open Championship. This kid is going to win a lot tourneys in his career.

Sleeper Bryson DeChambeau– He already has won once in the state of Ohio this year, why not again?

Zac’s Barracuda Championship picks

For the second time in three weeks, we have two PGA TOUR events in the same week, with this one being the Barracuda Championship. So here are some more picks coming your way.

1. Joel Dahmen– It has been copy and paste here for me every week and why should it change here? Dahmen had another good finish this past week in Canada and definitely warrants another play here.

2. Richy Werenski– I like where Werenski’s game is of late and his T2 finish at last year’s event definitely makes me feel confident about this pick.

3. Kevin Streelman– This is just a hunch pick. Streelman has shown the ability to go low and tied the course record at Quicken Loans National. That in addition to a T7 at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier makes him a pick.

Sleeper Robert Garrigus– Garrigus has made some noise in his last two tournaments and placed T6 in this event last year.

19th hole

Fans coming to the tournament have a chance to spend $125 a day for the ULTRA Club which provides an upgraded tournament experience. Each fan 21 or older will receive a complimentary Michelob ULTRA, upgraded food and drink for purchase, dining tables, televisions and seating with view of the signature par-5 16th fairway and green… Saturday will be “Sports Pride Day” where fans can wear their favorite team’s apparel with mascots on site. With the Pro Football Hall of Fame taking place as well this week, there will be cross-promotional efforts to promote Thursday night’s football game and ceremony while the course will welcome Hall of Fame guests throughout the week… Wednesday Jim Nantz will be recognized with this year’s Ambassador of Golf Award. Nantz has been one of golf’s most recognizable voices and has a 35-year broadcasting career… Former Plain Dealer golfer writer George Sweda will receive the Journalism Award and recognized during the Ambassador of Golf Ceremony.

Joe Smeltzer also contributed to this piece

Author: Zac Weiss