Almost immediately after it was announced in October of 2009 that golf would be returning to the Summer Olympics in 2016, curiosity piqued over how the quadrennial event would fit into the PGA TOUR schedule. Well, here we are in the summer of 2016 during which the impact of reintroducing the games will be felt.
Since the advent of the World Golf Championships in 1999, both the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and Barracuda Championship always concluded on a date in August. Now, as a result of necessary shift due to the Olympics in mid-August, both tournaments will be conducted this week. Furthermore, because the WGC-Bridgestone is scheduled concurrently against the Open de France, the European Tour, which usually co-sanctions the WGCs, stripped its label as an official event and will be rewarding eligible competitors bonus Ryder Cup points in Paris.
The European Tour’s decision has, in part, influenced a dozen Ryder Cup hopefuls to play in France instead of in Akron, Ohio, this week. Another two Euros who qualified for the WGC-Bridgestone – Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson – are taking the week off altogether. Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee, who is exempt into the WGC and also a European Tour member, will play in France instead. So, 61 of the 76 qualifiers will tee it up at Firestone Country’s Club South Course.
Firestone is the longest par 70 (7,400 yards) of the non-majors and it boasts the longest hole of the season (the 667-yard, par-5 16th). In 2015, the field’s driving accuracy was lowest among all tracks at just 44.87 percent. Greens average over 7,600 square feet, but when they’re prepped to tilt at 13 on the Stimpmeter, it’s no wonder that the field averaged just 10 greens in regulation per round per golfer last year, third-lowest of the season. The stingy profile could be further supported, but the moral of the story is that the South Course gave the guys everything they expected.
Shane Lowry emerged with a two-stroke victory thanks in large part to a bogey-free 66 in the finale. It yielded the Irishman his breakthrough title in the U.S. in what was his third appearance at Firestone. Eight-time champion Tiger Woods is the only to prevail in his debut in the tournament as a WGC, and that occurred logically in its inaugural edition in 1999.
While persuaded to play in France, Lowry is back to defend this week. He’ll be keen to lean on the formula that got the job done a year ago. Despite ranking T29 in fairways hit, his clip of 46.43 percent beat the field average. He then ranked T5 in GIR and fifth in strokes gained: putting. Nine of the 11 who finished with a top 10 finished the week inside the top 25 in GIR, but only Lowry and Brooks Koepka (fourth) cracked the top 10 in strokes gained: putting.
Save a mild disturbance late on Friday, primarily dry and sunny conditions will allow Firestone to showcase its bite. High temperatures in the low 80s will be accompanied by light winds throughout.
POWER RANKINGS: WGC-Bridgestone Invitational
RANK PLAYER COMMENT 1 Brooks Koepka 2 Jim Furyk 3 Shane Lowry 4 Jason Day 5 Dustin Johnson 6 Jason Dufner 7 Adam Scott 8 Jordan Spieth 9 Matt Kuchar 10 Branden Grace 11 Patrick Reed 12 Bubba Watson 13 Bill Haas 14 Kevin Na 15 Zach Johnson 16 Charl Schwartzel 17 Justin Rose 18 Phil Mickelson 19 Hideki Matsuyama 20 Rickie Fowler
ROB BOLTON'S WRITING SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM's Fantasy Columnist Rob Bolton will be filing his usual staples leading up to this week's events. Look for the following features later this week:
MONDAY: Rankings (Bridgestone)
TUESDAY*: Rankings (Barracuda), Sleepers, Fantasy Insider, Comfort Zone (Firestone CC)
WEDNESDAY: One-and-Done (Bridgestone), One-and-Done (Barracuda)
THURSDAY: Most-picked players (Bridgestone)
* = Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM's Expert Picks, which also publishes on Tuesdays.