One of the best fields in golf is assembled for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and good cases can be made for a number of star names in Akron, Phil Casey writes.
Firestone Country Club hosts the limited-field event for the final time before moving to Memphis next year, sad news for eight-time winner Tiger Woods but good news for those us – including a certain Jack Nicklaus – who find the golf course boring.
Woods’ last victory at Firestone in 2013 was also his last in any event but the 14-time major winner scraped into the field by moving up to 50th in the world rankings after finishing tied sixth in the Open at Carnoustie, where he led by a shot with eight holes to play.
The subsequent stumble while in contention has become a familiar sight this season and that is the main reason why a price of 12/1 offers little appeal, especially in a field which is so strong at the top of the market.
World number one and 2016 champion Dustin Johnson is a worthy favourite after his win in Canada, 2014 champion Rory McIlroy comes into the event on the back of a tie for second in the Open and Justin Rose has finished no worse than 10th in his last five starts.
Rickie Fowler has recorded four straight top 10s at Firestone, Jordan Spieth’s recent course form reads 10-3-13 and last year’s runner-up Zach Johnson also has three more top 10s in his last seven starts.
So who gets the nod when it comes to our selections?
First up is the aforementioned Rose, who is deservedly ranked second in the world after a phenomenal run of consistency which has also produced four wins since October.
Rose ended 2017 with 10 straight top 10s, including wins in China, Turkey and Indonesia, and has not missed a cut in 13 events in 2018. The Olympic champion won the Fort Worth Invitational and his major results this season read 12-10-2, his runners-up finish at Carnoustie coming after a birdie on the 18th on Friday just to make the cut.
His last two results at Firestone are poor but came when he was out of form and before that his course figures were 5-17-4-3, so Rose is our headline each-way selection at 14/1.
And although he is slightly shorter at 12/1, it’s impossible to leave McIlroy out of the equation on a course where he has recorded five top 10s in seven appearances, including victory in 2014 and fifth place 12 months ago.
With two short-priced favourites on board we’ll look further down the list in the search for some value, with Xander Schauffele fancied to continue his good form in the each-way market at 40/1.
Schauffele, of course, finished second in the Open after battling back from a nightmare front nine on the final round and he was an impressive 13th on his Firestone debut last year.
And finally we’ll take a small interest in 200/1 shot Cameron Smith, a talented Aussie who is making his debut in this event but has already recorded two top fives in majors in his young career.