by Ian Hudson
WGC – Bridgestone Invitational, Firestone Country Club – Akron, Ohio, United States.
Tiger Woods is in the field for the World Golf Championship Bridgestone Invitational. It will be interesting to see how the former world one handles the media frenzy that will be gathered to get a story about a player whose indiscretions took him to the front page of newspapers around the world. The tournament is being played on the South Course at Firestone in Akron, Ohio. The par is 70 but the yardage is above average at 7400 yards.
The field comprises of about 75 players and they need an invitation to play. The top 50 players in the world rankings are invited as well as President's Cup and Ryder Cup members. This year there is the usual small field and with no halfway cut so every player receives a cheque. The favourite is Rory McIlroy at 14.0 while Woods can be backed at 20.0 if you so wish
This year's tournament falls a week before the US PGA Championship. It is an important tournament with a massive winner's prize but most players would prefer to win a major rather than a WGC event. The US PGA is the last opportunity to win a major in the current season so it's the last chance for glory. Martin Kaymer won last year's PGA Championship. He chose to prepare to defend that title by practising away from the competitive arena.
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Hunter Mahan won the WGC event last year with a score of twelve under on this difficult course. His margin of victory was just the two shots he finished ahead of Ryan Palmer who played his four rounds at par or better. Retief Goosen had a solid tournament but one round spoilt his chances. The leading European was Peter Hanson at 6 under and the best round of the week came courtesy of Palmer who managed a 63 in his third round.
The course is relatively long for a par of 70. There are just two par fives and one of those is 667 yards in length so not reachable in two shots. The fairways are generous so driving distance is more important than diving accuracy. However accurate iron play to the small greens is needed to set up birdie chances. Accuracy and sound putting is required to score well this week.
Woods has not played competitively since pulling out of the Player's Championship in May midway through his first round due to a combination of several injuries. Even though Woods has not been playing he has had an eventful few months, sacking his caddie and moving to 21 in the world rankings. He returns to a tournament where he has enjoyed great success, with seven wins throughout his career.
If Woods returns to the fray mentally and physically in good shape the 20.0 for him would be a ridiculous price. All the stuff about falling out with his misses will also take its toll mentally but Woods is probably the player with the best mental strength of the field. He hasn't won a tournament since 2009 and that means his longest stretch without a win.
Woods has a tremendous run of consistency in this tournament. He won the tournament in three straight years from 1999 to 2001 and then repeated that achievement from 2005 to 2007. If Woods is to get back to the level that saw win 14 majors then he has to figure over the next two weeks. I actually believe that is a pivotal fortnight for Woods. If he plays poorly this week and next week at the PGA Championship he may not even qualify for the FedEx Cup play-offs.
I was watching the US coverage of their tournament last Saturday. The expert summariser suggested if Woods didn't qualify for the FedEx then his season could be virtually over. The pundit said he thought Woods should play in the tournament in the autumn that are not part of the play-offs He commented that these tournaments had given wildcards to Tiger at the start of his career and it would a good gesture for Woods to enter some of these tournaments as a way of acknowledging the help he received when he hadn't qualified through his playing record.
There are several other players who have really good records at Firestone and are well suited to the course. David Toms won a tournament again earlier in year and also lost a play-off in the Players Championship. He's had four top finishes on the South course and has a game well suited to the demands of this challenging 18 holes of golf.
Phil Mickelson is a previous winner but his form when the tournament is played after the PGA Championship is moderate. With the event taking place a week before the final major of the season we could see a better effort from Mickelson. He missed the cut last week in the Greenbrier Classic. He was second in the British Open the week before last. However, whatever Mickelson or any other player achieves it will be overshadowed by the return of Tiger Woods.[wpsm_video]https://youtu.be/RJ8RB0MjU-g[/wpsm_video]