This week we head to Akron, Ohio for the third of four WGC’s on the golfing calender, the WGC-Bridgstone Invitational. Not only is this a massive event in itself, with WGC’s right behind major championships in terms of prestige, but it’s also the last tournament before the final major of the year, the USPGA Championship which begins a week Thursday. Last week we saw Brandt Snedeker win his second event of the season, when he sealed the victory at the RBC Canadian Open. After three solid showings at each of the major championships this year, most notably at the Masters where held the 54-hole lead with Angel Cabrera, Snedeker will be looking at this week as another chance to show exactly how much he’s improved as a player over the last 18 months or so. He has been in the top-20 in five of the last six majors he’s been involved in, and he will definitely be one to keep an eye once again over the next couple of weeks. Another storyline from last weeks Canadian Open, was the withdrawal of the 36-hole leaser Hunter Mahan, who got the call that his wife was going into labour. Mahan has been in great form in recent weeks and was showing that yet again in Canada, but he put his family first, a popular decision in the golfing world. It is no surprise that Mahan, a previous winner here in Akron has withdrawn this week, and will now look ahead to playing well at the USPGA after some well earned family time.
Time to look ahead of who is playing this week, and who will challenge for the title in Akron, Ohio this week. This is a high quality event as are all of the WGC events, due to the qualifying criteria involved. It’s a limited field, with around 75 players making the final line up, which leads to big name fields. Since Adam Scott won the 2013 Masters, there is now only two names on the Bridgestone Invitational trophy who haven’t won a major championship, the 2010 champion Hunter Mahan, who had a T6 at an Open Championship before winning here, and Craig Parry who won in 2002 (when still knows as WGC-NEC Invitational) who also had two tops 5’s at major championships. With this in mind you have to believe that the quality of winners is particularly high, and this may put you off some players that you see as outside value this week. Of course there is no harm in backing a big priced player each-way but you may want to have one of the more favoured players onside here as the cream definitely seems to rise to the top. Let’s take a look at the course, and those players who head the betting here this week.
The Course: Firestone Country Club, Par 70, 7400 yards. As you can tell from the yardage, this is one of the longer Par 70’s you’ll see and the course itself features the longest hole played outside of a major, which is the whopping 667 yard par-5 16th, that coincidentally played over par last year, and could give some of the shorter hitters in the field some big problems. It will as ever be important to find the fairways, and if you can get further down the middle than others your’e going to have a better shot in, as the greens will be difficult to attack, due to the speed they’ll be running at. Players who can putt in multiple conditions, specifically on quick surfaces will like their chances this week, and those players who holed lots of putts at Augusta may be worth a second look. In summary although this course is long, the main thing you want to be sure of is that you find the short stuff off the tee, in order to give yourself your preferred shot in. Birdies are important at Firestone, proved last year by the winner Keegan Bradley who made 23 birdies over the four rounds!
The bookmakers favourite this week, is again none other than the World N0.1 Tiger Woods, who has won seven times here at Firestone, in thirteen attempts, and also has a 2nd place finish, two 4ths and a T8 last year, so it’s fair to say Tiger is the overwhelming favourite this week. When Tiger was suffering from a dip in form he came 2nd to last in 2010, and then T37 in 2011, those being his two bad finishes. He comes into this week with four wins already, and at 5/1 he still doesn’t look that short considering how well he plays the course. I myself won’t be backing him, because at his price I won’t be too worried to see him win, and would rather take a chance on players at a bigger price, who may just be overpriced thanks to Tiger’s previous dominance of the event. Having said all this Tiger has played well at events he’s enjoyed success at in the past and there’s no way you could even consider ruling him out this week. You don’t need me to tip him this week, if you like his price go ahead! Other players that are atop the market, and will also be favoured this week are Open Championship winner Phil Mickelson 14/1, Masters champion and 2011 Bridgestone Invitational winner Adam Scott at 16/1 and last weeks Canadian Open winner Brandt Snedeker at 22/1. Other than those you have the now usual suspects, Matt Kuchar and Justin Rose who both come in at 25/1, it’s then 28/1 and bigger the rest.
With Tiger in the field at his price, I think many players are worth a bet at their respective odds and I will be explaining why in more detail below. Here are my tips for the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitiational.
Matt Kuchar 25/1 (StanJames) 2pts e/w: Matt Kuchar has been in great form this season, building on his achievements since 2010. He has three wins since winning The Barclays back in 2010, two of them coming in 2013. Kuchar won the WGC-Matchplay, beating Hunter Mahan 2&1 in the final, before winning again in June at the Memorial Tournament. He has not missed a single cut this season, and apart from his two wins has, two 2nd place finishes, a T5, a T8 at the Masters and T9 back in week one, so he’s playing well even when he’s not winning. One of his 2nd place finished came last week at the RBC Canadian open, yet again proving how consistent Kuchar has become and that’s why at 25/1 I’m happy to back him. Along with his superb current form, he has had three showings at Firestone, coming in the top-1o twice and T19 in between. In his first showing back in 2010, Kuchar came T9 and followed that up with at T19 in 2011. He bettered is record once again, coming T8 last year, and I can find absolutely no reasons as to why he cannot improve even further and be right in the mix to take home to trophy come Sunday. Matt Kuchar is a player that has turned into a proven winner and a regular feature on the leaderboard week in, week out, so why not back him this week? I’m happy to have him as my top pick this week, as he certainly fits the bill to win here, in all aspects and hopefully he can prove his worth yet again.
Steve Stricker 33/1 (Ladbrokes, PaddyPower,StanJames) 1.5 pts e/w: Steve Stricker is having a fantastic season so far, his final round at the U.S Open the exception as he shot a 76 on his way to playing himself out of contention, a massive disappointment for him. He did however bounce back straight away at his favourite tournament, the John Deere Classic where posted another top 10, finishing T10. His highlights of the season so far are his 2nd in week one at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, his T5 at the WGC-MatchPlay, and finally his further 2nd at the WGC-Cadillac, so it’s fair to say Stricker is playing as well as he ever has. He missed the Open Championship in favour of spending the time with his wife on their anniversary, so comes into this week fresh off a three-week break and this coupled with his course form is what made me take him at 33/1 this week. He didn’t play this event until 2007, but since then he has had three top 10’s and a 14th, after starting out with two modest finishes in 2007-2008. His latest of those top 10s was his T2 last year and I can’t find a reason to suggest he won’t go well again. In terms of statistics, Stricker is 1st in Greens in Regulation, 8th in Driving Accuracy and 13th in Strokes-Gained Putting all things that should serve him well this week. This is the first season that Stricker has played such a limited schedule and it’s not hindered him at all, in fact it’s done quite the opposite and he is coming into this week arguably in better shape in terms of form than he did last year, so could it be time for to add to his one WGC victory back in 2o01, and his 11 other PGA Tour titles. In my opinion he’s more than a fair price this week and I can see him being right in the mix come Sunday.
Zach Johnson 66/1 (StanJames) 1pt e/w: When I mentioned the course was long earlier, and there was one of the longest par 5s in existence on this course, one player you probably wouldn’t have in mind is Zach Johnson. Johnson does not hit the ball a long way, however what he does do when he’s playing well is find the fairway, and guess what? He’s playing well. He currently sits 14th in Driving Accuracy, which backs up my point that he does find fairways, and with his last two results he looks like he could definitely go well here. One thing that you notice about Zach Johnson when he’s not playing well is the lack of putts that he holes, and in recent weeks he’s managed to change that around. He came 3rd at the Crowne Plaza and T2 at the John Deere Classic, a tournament he should of won, and these are two events he excels in time after time. Most impressively though is even though he’s struggled to really kick on this season, he still managed to come T6 at the Open Championship on a difficult course, so soon after being directly involved in a difficult play off loss. Johnson has two top 10’s at Firestone, T9 in 2005 and T6 in 2011, as well as three top 20s so he can play well here, which may surprise people, and the form he’s in I’m happy to include him at 66/1.
Angel Cabrera 70/1 (StanJames) 1pt e/w: Angel Cabrera is the big time player you want to back in these sort events, and at 70/1 this week is no exception. I’ve not had him onside in any of the majors so far this season, and this time out I couldn’t leave him out again. In his last three events he has finished T11 (Open Championship), T13 (AT&T National) and T9 at the Travelers Championship, add that to his 2nd at Augusta, his win on the PGA TOUR LatinoAmerica win two weeks after and his decent course form and you have yourself a respectable outsider. Cabrera hasn’t played at Firestone since 2010, but has three T4 finishes (2004,2006 & 2009) and considering his current form, I’m happy to back him to go well once again at what looks like a very fair price. If you’re looking purely at his stats on Tour this season it doesn’t fill you with confidence, but his ability to turn up at these big events and play to the very best of his ability is what makes him such an interesting option every time, especially at the right price. If Cabrera can rekindle some of his early form at this course he’s going to be right up there, and I for one believe he can.
Martin Laird 125/1 0.5pts e/w: Laird was a player I was thinking of the Open Championship, and I’m glad I wasn’t made to regret that decision. This week however, I think at 125/1 he is a great price for someone who has not just won this year, but played some eye-catching golf. His results haven’t quite done him justice, apart from his win at the Valero Texas Open and his T5 at the Players’ Championship. A final round of 68 at the U.S Open saw him finish inside the top-25, whilst a third round 81 saw him drop right out of contention at the Open Championship, so contrasting fortunes in the major championships. This is his first WGC of the season, and he will be hoping he can draw confidence from past experience in other WGC events, as well as his three showings here at Firestone, which have not hurt his chances. From 2010 onwards Laird has finished, T16, T11 & T29 in this event, proving he can not only handle the situation of the big event, but can also navigate the course with relative success, and he’ll be looking to build on those finishes. His form has been up and down, hence his price but there’s enough positives for me to back him at the odds offered, and I’m looking for him to give us a good run for our money over the weekend.
Total Points staked this week: 12
Profit/Loss for 2013: +69.65
No bets for me this week in the regular PGA event the Reno-Tahoe Open, the Stableford format is not something I’m keen on and the field is as expected pretty week so there’s very little value to be had. I’ve gone for five picks this week in one event, as oppose to my usual four just because I feel all five of these players are great value for the win, and are accurately priced. A win would be more than welcome at this time, with a lack of profit in recent weeks but I’m as confident as ever that this will change and I hope you feel the same. As ever I hope you’ve enjoyed the read and if you want to follow me on Twitter you can do so @TomJacobs8