Back in its customary slot as a tune-up for the PGA Championship, Firestone Country Club's South Course hosts this week's World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.
Of course, any WGC is hardly a member-guest where a pro can shake off some rust, and Firestone is everything but a pushover, but there is a palpable sense of comfort and familiarity as we embark on the imminent fortnight.
After its shift to accommodate the Olympics last year and when the European Tour didn't designate the WGC-Bridgestone as an official stop, the field at Firestone is nearly at full strength again. Only Martin Kaymer (shoulder) and Brandt Snedeker (rib) aren't able to give it a go, thus leaving 76 in pursuit of the Gary Player Cup.
POWER RANKINGS: WGC-Bridgestone Invitational
RANK PLAYER COMMENT 1 Jordan Spieth 2 Brooks Koepka 3 Rickie Fowler 4 Jon Rahm 5 Dustin Johnson 6 Justin Rose 7 Paul Casey 8 Adam Scott 9 Hideki Matsuyama 10 Kevin Chappell 11 Henrik Stenson 12 Rory McIlroy 13 Rafa Cabrera Bello 14 Matt Kuchar 15 Jason Day 16 Kevin Kisner 17 Branden Grace 18 Charley Hoffman 19 Lee Westwood 20 Sergio Garcia
Tuesday's Fantasy Insider will include RBC Canadian Open champion Jhonattan Vegas, Patrick Reed, Phil Mickelson, Justin Thomas and Louis Oosthuizen among other notables.
As both host of a World Golf Championship and the precursor to the season's final major, Firestone checks both boxes as emphatically as any course every golfer in attendance will play all year. Last year, it ranked as the hardest in both fairways hit (44.33 percent) and greens in regulation (54.05 percent). And even when the 58 golfers who completed 72 holes were averaging just 9.73 GIR per round, they converted par breakers barely one-quarter of the time, slotting it seventh-hardest in that scoring statistic. The scoring average for the week established a nine-year-high of 71.416.
The strongest winds of the week hit in the second round. Consider that William McGirt opened with 6-under 64 and Dustin Johnson eventually won the tournament at 6-under 274. Firestone is hard, but it's fair and it's consistent.
Coincidentally, the most challenging winds this week are forecast to blow during the second round, but the most threatening element is severe weather. Thunderstorms on Thursday and Friday are all but guaranteed to impact the tournament, at least it would be surprising if they didn't develop. The risk diminishes significantly on the weekend when high temperatures will drop into the mid-70s.
Firestone is also long. No other par 70 in a non-major comes close to matching its 7,400 yards. It has only two par fives, which are usually where the field can consider breaking par, but the par-5 16th was the No. 4-handicap hole last year at +0.180 strokes to par. The combination bentgrass-Poa greens have been prepped to max at 12-and-a-half feet on the Stimpmeter, but the unfavorable conditions figure to slow them a bit. That may encourage bold decisions even if it means landing drives and approaches in three-inch rough. Fairways widen with damp turf and softer greens are more receptive to shots with less spin than those struck from normal lies.
With no cut, everyone who commits is guaranteed 72 holes. So, you can completely understand how Firestone sets up as exactly the kind of test on which the majority headed to Quail Hollow Club next week prefers to sharpen its game.
ROB BOLTON’S WRITING SCHEDULE
PGATOUR.COM’s Fantasy Columnist Rob Bolton will be filing his usual staples leading up to this week’s event. Look for the following columns this week.
MONDAY: Rookie Ranking, Qualifiers, Reshuffle, Medical Extensions, Power Rankings (WGC-Bridgestone)
TUESDAY*: Power Rankings (Barracuda), Sleepers (WGC-Bridgestone), The Confidence Factor (WGC-Bridgestone), Fantasy Insider
WEDNESDAY: One & Done (WGC-Bridgestone), One & Done (Barracuda)
THURSDAY: Ownership Percentages in PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf and One & Done presented by SERVPRO
* - Rob is a member of the panel for PGATOUR.COM’s Expert Picks for PGA TOUR Fantasy Golf presented by SERVPRO, which also publishes on Tuesdays.