Russell Knox … It's not often that a PGA TOUR member cracks this field by winning an event on another tour, but that's what the Scot achieved when he prevailed in Ireland three weeks ago. It chased a co-runner-up finish in Paris the week prior. Despite a leaking Official World Golf Ranking that reached a nadir of 145th in the second week of June, he's been showing promise time and again en route to a series of top 20s, which served as his calling card when he crashed on TOUR four years ago. He's also reconnected with an elevated level of tee-to-green proficiency and now sits 54th in the OWGR. With all of that serving as the foundation for this week, there's also the not-so-insignificant fact that he placed T5 at Firestone last year while mired in a slump during which it was his only top-25 finish from late April through early November.
Austin Cook ... It's an achievement for any true PGA TOUR rookie to gain entry into the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. Because of the longer-term success required to qualify via the Official World Golf Ranking or earn a coveted spot in the last team competition that triggers an exemption, the easiest – and certainly fastest – path is to win a qualifying tournament. And, of course, that's not easy. Yet, here he is at Firestone. A year ago at this time, Xander Schauffele was a winner (Greenbrier) with three top 10s and positioned at 31st in the FedExCup standings. Today, Cook is a winner (RSM) with three top 10s and slotted 27tn in the FedExCup. While he doesn't motor it off the tee like last season's Rookie of the Year, Cook's bag is as balanced as any veteran would want while sizing up his first go at this week's test.
Andrew Landry … No profile is airtight, but the first-timer at Firestone is a solid fit as an emerging tough-track specialist. When he broke through for victory at the Valero Texas Open and later en route to a T8 at the Quicken Loans National (where it'd be unfair to use runaway winner Francesco Molinari as a good example of the challenge of TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm), Landry's tee-to-green game was on point. He also flashed a taut game around the greens and didn't do any damage with his putter. That blend of skills will work just fine in Akron.
Brendan Steele … The winner of the season-opening Safeway Open is 30th in the FedExCup standings, so he's in a great place with the Playoffs on the horizon. He has seven top 20s in 2017-18, but it's been almost five months since his last in stroke-play individual competition (T20, WGC-Mexico). At T25 in total driving and ninth in greens hit, he's poised for another top 20 this week. The 35-year-old came within a stroke of that bubble at Firestone last year and placed T24.
Ryuko Tokimatsu … The 24-year-old from Japan qualified when he won the Bridgestone Open on his home circuit last October. The tournament was limited to just 36 holes due to inclement weather, but he won again in May and added a runner-up finish at the JGT Championship two weeks later to climb inside the top 100 of the Official World Golf Ranking at the time. He leads the Japan Golf Tour in earnings and ranks second in par-5 scoring despite his profile as a ball-striker.