There’s plenty of reason to take confident opinions in this tournament. Firestone is such a searching test that many players never look like prospering here. Consider the records of world-class characters such as Ernie Els, who has never fared better than 5th and has only two top-10s in well over a decade of trying. Or Padraig Harrington, who has never made the top-10 in nine tries. Sergio Garcia is another Firestone failure, with a best to date of just 7th. Even the normally consistent Mike Weir has never reached the top-20 here.
As for Woods principal rival, Phil Mickelson, the story is mixed but still not encouraging. He used to love this layout but has tended to struggle since it was toughened up earlier this century. Mickelson did finish 4th in Tiger’s absence last year, but had struggled in each of the previous five years. In any case, an equally pressing concern on Mickelson’s first start since the US Open will be his ‘match-fitness’, as he may be using Firestone primarily as a warm-up for next week’s PGA Championship.
There are no such worries about JIM FURYK, who has done everything but win on this course. Most memorably, Furyk gave Woods the fight of his life in a lengthy 2001 play-off; the best effort amongst four top-6s in his last seven visits. As always the concern with Furyk is that he so rarely wins, but as this bet excludes a potentially runaway tournament winner, it could be landed without his dubious temperament having to be fully tested under pressure. Bear in mind that the same bet at 20/1 in this market over that aforementioned seven-year period would have yielded a substantial profit from one win and three places.
His game may appear to have gone off the boil since peaking in late May, but PAUL CASEY has the ideal opportunity to bounce back here. Rather like Tiger, Firestone really is perfect for Casey’s power game, as illustrated by a promising course record. His six attempts have yielded five top-20s, with a best of 4th in 2006. Last year’s 8th was a particularly impressive effort, having opened with a triple bogey if memory serves. The crucial point with Casey is that all that promising course form occured before the recent marked improvement in his game, which has elevated him from 42nd to 3rd in the world rankings.