The world’s best players travel to Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio this week for the third World Golf Championship event of 2011. Hunter Mahan defends the title at the Bridgestone Invitational and Tiger Woods makes yet another comeback.
Last time we saw Tiger in competitive action, he limped off after nine holes of The Players Championship suffering knee and Achilles injuries. The world number 28 returns to a course where he has tasted victory seven times before, most recently in 2009.
Even though out of action for 11 weeks, Woods has still remained in the limelight, principally for firing long-time caddy Steve Williams. Woods will have old friend Byron Bell on the bag at Firestone. It’s an interesting choice as, although Bell has stepped in to caddy for Tiger in the past, he was also linked to some of the more sordid details of the Woods sex scandal.
Woods may continue to dominate the headlines but he will have a tough time claiming an eighth victory in Akron with strong opposition from his US countrymen and the European Tour players who are riding the crest of a wave at the moment. In fact, there will be an amazing total of 35 European Tour members in the field this week including all four of the reigning Major champions – Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke.
Clarke is a former winner of this event, having picked up the title in 2003.
“I haven’t been to Akron for a couple of years, so it will be nice to get back,” said Clarke. “I’ve played well there before. I just like it. I don’t know why, I just like it.”
At 7,400 yards with a par of only 70, Firestone will present a tough challenge to the top players who will be looking to hone their games with just one week to go before the year’s final Major. It’s a layout that should suit the longer hitters, perhaps US Open champion Rory McIlroy.
“It’s one of my favourite courses,” he said. “To shoot a few good rounds, and that will give me some confidence going into the USPGA Championship.”
Venue: Firestone Country Club, Akron, Ohio
Date: Aug 4-7
Course stats: par 70, 7,400 yards
Purse: $8,500,000 Winner: $1,400,000
Defending Champion: Hunter Mahan (-12)
Thursday 4 – Live on Sky Sports 1 from 7pm
Friday 5 – Live on Sky Sports 2 from 7pm
Saturday 6 – Live on Sky Sports 1 from 5pm
Sunday 7 – Live on Sky Sports 1 from 5.30pm
Lee Westwood – He’d been playing solidly up until a missed cut at the Open Championship and he has a good record in this event – he was tied second in 2008. The course suits his style of play as it rewards long, straight driving.
Dustin Johnson – The American who finished tied for second at the Open Championship is one of the most powerful players in world golf. This is a layout that he could tame if he finds his best game this week.
Sergio Garcia – He looks like he’s starting to enjoy the game once more and he seems to be holing a few more putts. In the last two months he’s been 7th in the US Open, 2nd at the BMW International Open and 9th in the Open Championship. Perhaps this week we could see Sergio take another significant step towards a return to the top of the game.
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.
Skills required: Strength – Not only does this course require long hitting but the thick rough also demands powerful recovery play. Expect the long straight hitters and the strong “escape-artists” to cope well.
Equipment – TaylorMade R11 irons launched