The WGC- Bridgestone Invitational is, as the name suggests a WGC event and also has invitational status. It has been on the PGA Tour schedule since 1999 and has been held at Firestone CC every year barring 2002.
The four WGC events each year are generally second behind only the majors in terms of prestige. Given the invitational status a field of just 61 golfers will tee it up this week.
Firestone CC is a 7,400 yard, Par 70. Tiger Woods holds the tournament scoring record at -21 back in 2000. He finished the week 11 shots better than runners-up Justin Leonard and Phillip Price (!!!). The course features fast greens, tough par-4’s and the longest par-5 outside of the majors (667 yard 16th).
Key Stats and Trends
Major players – Of the 10 different winners of this event 7/10 are major champions. Those who are not (Craig Parry, Hunter Mahan and Shane Lowry) have all finished T6 or better in at least one major championship.
Birdie Average – You need to make a tonne of birdies this week in order to contend, so looking at a player’s average on the season makes sense.
Greens in Regulation – Hitting greens in regulation seems to be a stock answer most week’s but it is as vital as ever.
Bentgrass Putting – Once you have hit these small Bentgrass greens, you need to convert. Those who have a history of putting well on these surfaces should have an advantage.
Par 4 scoring – The Par 4’s here are tough and long. It would be advisable to look to those who have been playing Par 4’s well all year because of this.
Brooks Koepka 20/1 (General) – Koepka is an exceptional talent and for me it is a case of when rather than if he wins a big event.
Koepka shot a 4th round 68 to finish T13 at Oakmont but it looked like it would be even better. After two bogeys thru three holes, Koepka went on to make six birdies and an eagle in the next seven. Unfortunately he went on to bogey four of his last five but it was a stellar effort all the same.
Heading into the U.S. Open, the big-hitting American had posted back-to-back 2nd place finishes. His current form as a result, since missing the cut at the Texas Open (only his second all year) reads 35-2-2-13. With this form and his 6th place finish on debut last year, I am confident Koepka can win here at Firestone.
Koepka ranks 4th in Par 4 Scoring Average, 18th in Birdie Average and 35th in Strokes Gained – Putting, so he looks certain to win soon.
Whilst 20/1 is fairly short for him in this field, he looks locked in and is the type of player I expect to win a major sooner rather than later. A win here would be the natural progression before nabbing that major championship.
Charl Schwartzel 40/1 (General) – I picked Schwartzel for the U.S. Open and whilst he didn’t win, he did finish a respectable 23rd. This was enough for me to give the South African another chance this week at Firestone.
Since the U.S. Open he has teed it up in Japan, where he finished 5th last week so he is clearly still striking the ball well.
Schwartzel ranks 23rd in Par 4 Scoring Average and 16th in Birdie Average, so he is clearly playing well enough to contend.
His putting still lets him down despite winning this season already. If he can get warm any given week, his ball-striking can lead him to contention, as proved at the Valspar.
At Firestone he has finished 31-4-21-24-53-58-36, so whilst largely underwhelming, he can knock it round here.
If he gets that putting stroke working this week, he could easily go well here. At 40/1 I am happy to chance that he does.
Marc Leishman 66/1 (Boylesports) – Leishman often looks a good bet to get his second win on Tour but I like him this week especially.
Due to the extent of his talents his odds often reflect that but at 66/1 he is great value this week.
Leishman ranks T7 in Par 4 Scoring Average and T34 in Birdie Average, two key stats this week. The Australian also ranks 33rd in Strokes Gained – Putting so his all-round game looks in great shape.
Whilst he hasn’t won a major, he would be in the same bracket as Parry, Mahan and Lowry. He has finished in the top-4 at both the Masters (2013) and last year’s Open, proving his pedigree.
In three starts at Firestone he has finished 33-3-45, so whilst he may have only had one stellar week, he is in good enough form to change that. He has missed just one cut in his last eight and has accumulated four top-20’s in that span.
He finished 18th at the U.S. Open, another strong performance in a big event and he can easily do that here too.
David Lingmerth 80/1 (BoyleSports) – Lingmerth played well two weeks ago to finish T12 at Oakmont and he can go well again here.
Lingmerth won the Memorial last year and Muirfield as a course is a key indicator this week. Due to its long par 4’s and the fast Bentgrass greens, Muirfield has similarities with Firestone which may give us a clue.
He finished 6th on his sole visit to Firestone last year and is coming off the back of a T12 at Oakmont.
It is easy to forget Lingmerth didn’t secure his PGA Tour card until 2013. In that time he has won via a play-off and lost out on two others. This is an impressive start to life on Tour, especially when you factor in his T12 finishes in two majors.
With all this is mind and his 80/1 odds in a 61-man field, I am taking a chance on the talented Swede.
I will be building my line-ups around the four above (Koepka, Schwartzel, Leishman and Lingmerth) but here some other options.
Justin Rose ($10,200) – Rose has posted four top-5’s at this course, including three in his last four starts.
Injury concerns (back) temper expectations slightly but I believe that is factored into this salary. Should he be at full fitness after missing the cut at Oakmont and taking last week off, he will more than likely be in and around the top-5.
Jim Furyk ($9,500) – Despite his lack of distance of the tee, Furyk still excels around Firestone. Whilst he hasn’t won here, he has twice been a runner-up and also finished 3rd here last year.
Furyk battled to finish 2nd at the U.S. Open and backed that up with a T21 finish at the Quicken Loans last week. His $9,500 salary is reasonable given his course and current form.
Shane Lowry ($8,700) – Lowry comes into the week as defending champion and if he can cope with that pressure he could be dangerous. Lowry played exceptionally for most of the U.S. Open, however he shot a six-over 76 in round 4. He led the way going into the final day but unfortunately could not hang on and lost out to Dustin Johnson by two strokes.
On his two other starts here he has finished 48th and 76th so he may just have got hot last year and as a result I won’t have him in too many line-ups.
Kevin Na ($7,300) – Na has six top-10’s in 17 events this season and missed just three cuts, making him a valuable selection in the fantasy format. The most recent of those top-10’s came at the U.S. Open two weeks ago when he finished T7.
He opened the week with a round of 75 but three consecutive under par rounds saw him fight back.
On this course he has finished 15th and 23rd on his last two starts, so he looks like good value at $7,300.
Scott Piercy ($7,100) – Piercy has made 15/17 cuts this season, so generally speaking he is providing fantasy players with four rounds of scoring. There is no cut this week so again he will get a chance to make your line-ups some valuable points for four days.
He has only posted two top-10’s this year but one of those came at the U.S. Open where he finished runner-up alongside Furyk and Lowry.
At Firestone, Piercy has gone 59-19 on his two starts and if he can reproduce something like that 19th place finish, he will pay back the $7,100 outlay.
Given his strong performance at the U.S. Open I give him every chance of performing well this week.
Soren Kjeldsen ($6,700) – The sub-7k range this week for me is a minefield but Kjeldsen could be a good play.
He has only played here twice and has finished 12-67 but that 12th came last year and given his fairly impressive form this season I am happy to chance him. He finished 20th at the Memorial which as stated is a correlating course giving another reason for optimism.
As my picks reflect, I think it would be more beneficial this week to leave out the very top players and make a solid team of 7k-9k players. There are not many low-value picks who can contend here nor do I trust.