The world’s best players travel to Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio this week for the third World Golf Championship event of 2014. Tiger Woods defends his title at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

Lowdown:
The world’s best players travel to Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio this week for the third World Golf Championship event of 2014. Tiger Woods defends his title at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

There’s a limited field for this event, just 76 players and no cut. The participants have qualified either by being ranked in the top-50 in the world, by playing in the last Presidents Cup, or by winning significant tournaments around the world over the last 12 months.

Tiger Woods has been a dominant force at Firestone since he won the inaugural instalment of this event as a WGC tournament (then the NEC Invitational) back in 1999. He defended his title in 2000 and made it three in a row in 2001. He’s won the event five more times since then. Last year he played a phenomenal second round of 61 to open a seven shot lead that, in the end, was the margin of his victory over Keegan Bradley and Henrik Stenson.

Woods needs another good week at Firestone if he’s to push towards a Ryder Cup place and a spot in the 2014 FedEx Cup playoffs. He’s currently 70th on the Ryder Cup points list and a lowly 215th on the FedEx Cup standings.

A strong European contingent will compete at Firestone CC, headed by Open Champion Rory McIlroy. He’s looking to build on his third Major victory and continue his push back towards the Number 1 spot on the Official World Golf Ranking.

“I just want to think ahead and go forward and try to win as many tournaments and as many Majors as I can, because I feel like there’s a lot more left in me,” he said.

Other Europeans looking to grab a share of the significant purse and World Ranking points on offer include: Sergio Garcia who was tied second at Hoylake; Justin Rose who won at Royal Aberdeen the week before the Open; and World Number 3, Henrik Stenson.

With only five tournaments left to qualify, this tournament will be critical for those on the fringes of Paul McGinley’s Ryder Cup team. Stephen Gallacher, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and Miguel Angel Jimenez will all be desperately keen for a lucrative week to boost their chances of appearing at Gleneagles.

At 7,400 yards with a par of only 70, Firestone will present a tough challenge to the top players. Last season the scoring average was 1.051 shots over par.

The South Course at Firestone was originally designed by Bert Way back in 1929 but it was remodelled by the great Robert Trent Jones in 1960. In 1976, the course hosted the first World Series of Golf, won by Jack Nickaus. Until 1998 the tournament was known by that name, before it became a WGC event in 1999.

The weather forecast for the week looks to be decidedly changeable and there’s a threat of thunderstorms and rain. Expect some delays.

Venue: Firestone Country Club, Akron, Ohio
Date: Jul 31 – Aug 3
Course stats: par 70, 7,400 yards
Purse: $9,000,000 Winner: $1,530,000
Defending Champion: Tiger Woods (-15)

TV Coverage:
Thursday 31 – Sky Sports 4 from 6.30pm
Friday 1 – Sky Sports 4 from 6.30pm
Saturday 2 – Sky Sports 5pm
Sunday 3 – Sky Sports 5pm

Player Watch:
Henrik Stenson – Tied second here last year so it’s a course he clearly enjoys. He has five top-seven finishes in his last six European Tour starts including a tied fourth in the U.S. Open.

Matt Kuchar – Tied fourth last week in Canada, Kuchar has finished in the top-10 in this event twice in the last four years.

Hideki Matsuyama – The young Japanese star won at the Memorial and put in solid performances in both the U.S. Open and Open Championships.

Key hole: 16th. A 667 yard par 5, it’s a true three shotter. A pond in front of the green means even the longest hitters can’t get there in two.