July 31 2013
By Rob Bolton, PGATOUR.COM Fantasy Columnist
Sixteen of the last 17 winners at Firestone Country Club's South Course are major champions. The lone exception is Hunter Mahan (2010), who may have been a favorite this week if not for an early withdrawal to enjoy the first days of his newborn daughter's life.
Tiger Woods counts seven times, all since 1999 when the World Golf Championships series began. Other winners of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone include Darren Clarke (2003), Stewart Cink (2004), Vijay Singh (2008), Adam Scott (2011) and Keegan Bradley (2012). Only Singh and Bradley had already taken a major title before emerging at Firestone.
There are 16 major champions in the 73-man field this week, which means there's a 21.9-percent chance of the overall trend continuing. Not all golfers are created equal, to infer a tilt toward the elite just like any other week.
Like a course set up for a major, Firestone requires a well-balanced attack. Since it was extended to 7,400 yards in 2007 to coincide with the FedExCup era, each of the six winners ranked inside the top 10 in par-4 scoring. While the sizes of the field are about half of a regular PGA TOUR event, this is in line with the theme of this feature over the last few months. But there's additional value in par-3 and par-5 scoring. Only Mahan (T30, par-3 scoring) and Bradley (T16, par-5 scoring) didn't crack the top eight in both as well.
Digging deeper, while distance and accuracy of the tee has varied -- although a little pop never hurt when the rough isn't grown to major specifications -- hitting greens in regulation and erasing mistakes is crucial for success at Firestone. All six winners ranked inside the top 11 in their fields in GIR and the first five finished inside the top eight in scrambling. Bradley compensated for a T25 in scrambling last year by leading the field in strokes gained-putting.