Quick look at WGC-Bridgestone Invitational
OVERVIEW Jordan Spieth received plenty of congratulatory messages following his Open Championship win two weeks ago. One of those came from fellow Dallas resident and occasional playing partner George W. Bush. The former President doesn’t mind throwing a lighthearted jab every now and then, so he wasn’t about to let Spieth’s errant tee shot on the 13th hole on Sunday – the one that set off a string of events that could well be the defining moment of Spieth’s career – go without notice. “Call me,” the former President wrote to Spieth. “I think I need to give you some driving lessons.” Spieth, telling the story Wednesday on the eve of this week’s World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, has never backed down from a challenge. His response was equally impressive. “I’ve played with him,” Spieth said of Bush, “and I know that I definitely don’t need driving lessons from him.” Right now, it’s doubtful Spieth needs lessons from anyone. He comes to Firestone having won each of the last two starts, both in spectacular fashion (perhaps you heard about the bunker shot at the Travelers Championship?) and will try to match Dustin Johnson’s feat this season of winning in three consecutive starts. Next week, Spieth will go to the PGA Championship with a chance to complete to become the youngest player to complete the career Grand Slam. For all he’s done right with the majors, Spieth’s yet to experience the same kind of success in the World Golf Championships events. In his previous 14 WGC starts, his best result came at Firestone last year when he tied for third. That’s one of his four top-10 WGC finishes, two of those coming in the Dell Technologies Match Play where he’s yet to advance to the semifinals. Given his current form, there seems to be no better time than this week for Spieth to post his first WGC win. “We've got significant goals that we have yet to achieve this year for the rest of the season,” Spieth said, “and I'm excited to get started here at Firestone.” Indeed, it’s a big stretch of golf in a condensed timeframe. A WGC event, a major, the four FedExCup Playoffs events and then The Presidents Cup are on his schedule in the next two months. It’s no wonder he stressed the important of finding the proper rest while trying to maintain an effective practice routine. “That’s always the challenge as we get late into the season,” Spieth said. “There’s just so many big events that are so compact.” Spieth took time off last week and said he feels rejuvenated after the mentally draining performance at Royal Birkdale. That’s good news as he seeks his first WGC title – and bad news for the rest of the field. First appearance at Firestone since his 2014 win. The reigning FedExCup champ could use a boost – he’s 53rd in current standings. The only player to complete the WGC Slam. Tiger has 18 WGC wins but not the HSBC, which Dustin won in 2013. Making his 100th career PGA TOUR start this week and already owns a WGC win this season (at the HSBC in October). THREE PLAYERS TO PONDER RANK PLAYER COMMENT THE FLYOVER No hole on the PGA TOUR last season was longer than the 667-yard par-5 16th at Firestone’s South course. No surprise that it was the second toughest par 5 on TOUR, playing to a stroke average of 5.108 (Pebble Beach’s 14th had a stroke average of 5.209). Since 2003, 4,258 rounds have been played on the South course, with just 145 players going for the green in two. Of those 145 players, they were a combined 31 under par. Here’s a closer look at the 16th, once dubbed “The Monster” by Arnold Palmer after he made triple bogey in the 1960 PGA Championship. THE LANDING ZONE The opening hole at Firestone South is also the shortest par-4 on the course, listed at 399 yards on the scorecard. But that doesn’t make it the easiest hole -- the first hole ranked 12th in difficulty at last season’s WGC event, playing to a stroke average of 4.056. Bunkers guard both sides of the landing zone, and a couple of tee balls even landed in the water running along the left rough. Check out where all tee shots landed last year. WEATHER CHECK The first two rounds could be challenging, with rain expected both days and high winds on Friday. But the weekend looks promising, especially after the cold front moving across the state of Ohio lowers the temperatures. TEMPS: In the 80s for the first two rounds, but once that cold front pushes through, the temps will drop about 10 degrees. RAIN: Rain and thunderstorms expected Thursday afternoon, and also on Friday afternoon. WINDS: Potential gusts on Friday to 25 mph. Wind not expected to make much of an impact on Sunday. For the latest weather news from Akron, Ohio, check out PGATOUR.COM’s Weather Hub. SOUND CHECK “Well, he's No. 1 in the world, so I want to kick his butt. That's pretty simple. Trying to do that.” ODDS AND ENDS 1. PLAYOFFS BOOST. Besides offering an increase in FedExCup points (550 versus 500 for a regular TOUR event), the winner of the WGC-Bridgestone is all but guaranteed a spot in the 30-man TOUR Championship. Since the FedExCup’s inception in 2007, nine of the 10 winners at Firestone have advanced to the Playoffs finale. The lone exception was Shane Lowry in 2015. Three of the 10 winners went on to claim the FedExCup title (Tiger Woods in 2007 and 2009, and Vijay Singh in 2008). 2. FIRED-UP RAHM. The first-year TOUR member has two career WGC starts – a T-3 at the Mexico Championships and a runner-up at the Dell Match Play when he lost to Dustin Johnson in the championship final. To say he’s excited about playing at Firestone seems like an understatement. “Now having seen the course and the area, it's absolutely amazing,” Rahm said Wednesday. “It's not only World Golf Championship, but it's World Golf Championship-worthy course. I mean, it's absolutely perfect. Perfect conditions, perfect shape, really, really good design.” 3. WGC WINNERS. Fourteen players in the field have previously won a World Golf Championships event – and six of those have won multiple WGC events. Defending champ Dustin Johnson has five WGC wins, and Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter and Adam Scott have won two each. 4. DRIVING INACCURACY. No course last year on the PGA TOUR had a lower percentage of tee shots finding the fairway than Firestone South. Players found the fairway just 44.33 percent of the time. It also had the lowest greens in regulation percentage at 54.05 percent.
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