The world’s best players travel to Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio this week for the third World Golf Championship event of 2013. Keegan Bradley is defending champion and Tiger Woods will be looking for an eighth title.

With just a week to go before the USPGA Championship at Oak Hill, the stars of both the European and PGA Tours will be out in force this week as they look to complete their preparations for the year’s final major in the best possible way.

Phil Mickelson will be aiming to continue his incredible run of recent form at Firestone. It’s not a track he tends to perform well at, but if he maintains the level of play he produced at Muirfield, he could be tough to beat. The other 2013 Major champions, Adam Scott and Justin Rose will be in attendance, so too seven-time Firestone winner Tiger Woods. In fact, the only players from the top-25 on the Official World Ranking not in the field are Hunter Mahan and Louis Oosthuizen.

There’s a limited field for this event, just 72 players and no cut. The participants have qualified either by being ranked in the top-50 in the world, by playing in the last Ryder 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 four more times since then.

Last year, Woods could only manage a tie for eighth at Firestone. Keegan Bradley took the title with a superb final round of 64, he snuck home one ahead of veterans Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker.

At 7,400 yards with a par of only 70, Firestone will present a tough challenge to the top players. It’s a layout where the players tend to hit it long off the tee but last year in particular, they struggled to find the short grass. In fact, in 2012 the world’s best golfers hit less than 50% of the fairways they aimed at here.

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.

It should be relatively cool this week in Ohio with a decent breeze to test the competitors. As ever with golf in the States, don’t be surprised to see a thunderstorm or two rolling through to disrupt play.

Firestone Country Club, Akron, Ohio
Date: Aug 1 – 4
Course stats: par 70, 7,400 yards
Purse: $8,750,000 Winner: $1,400,000
Defending Champion: Keegan Bradley (-13)

TV Coverage:
Thursday 1 – Sky Sports 3 from 7pm
Friday 2 – Sky Sports 4 from 7pm
Saturday 3 – Sky Sports 4 from 5pm
Sunday 4 – Sky Sports 4 from 5pm

Player Watch:
Henrik Stenson – The talented Swede is coming back to his best form. He was tied third in the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart and then claimed second place in the Open Championship at Muirfield. His game should be suited to this course with a particular emphasis placed on power and ball striking.

Matt Kuchar – The ever-consistent Kuchar was tied second in Canada last week. He’s made 21 consecutive cuts on the PGA Tour and has been in the top-10 in two of his last three starts at Firestone.

Justin Rose – The U.S. Open Champion may have missed the cut at Muirfield, but he’ll be looking to bounce back from that performance here. He was tied fifth in this event last year.

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.

Where next?
RICOH Women’s British Open