10 Players to Watch: WGC Bridgestone Invitational

  1. Jason Day, Australia — Had Day not opened with a 76 in the U.S. Open at Oakmont, he might have been right there at the finish, as he rallied to get back into contention and finished in a tie for eighth. He has finished out of the top 10 in only two of his last eight tournaments, which include three victories, and will have the home-state gallery with him this week in Ohio. This will be Day’s seventh appearance at Firestone, where his best result was a tie for fourth in 2011, when he opened with a 63 and was in the chase most of the way before finishing five shots behind fellow Aussie Adam Scott. He also tied for 12th last year. His two WGC titles came in the Match Play, in 2014 and earlier this season.
  1. Dustin Johnson, United States — With that elusive first major title finally under his belt after a brilliant performance in the U.S. Open, DJ might be ready to become the dominant player many expect him to be. He has finished no worse than fifth in the FedEx St. Jude Classic in his last three tournaments, and with nine top-10 results on the PGA Tour this season trails only Jason Day and Adam Scott in the FedEx Cup standings. Eight of those results were top-fives, including a tie for fourth in the Masters. Surprisingly, Johnson’s best result in six starts in the Bridgestone was solo 15th in 2010, but he does have two titles in the World Golf Championships, in the 2013 HSBC Champions and the 2015 Cadillac Championship.
  1. Shane Lowry, Ireland — With Rory McIlroy opting to play in the 100th French Open this week outside Paris, Lowry is the highest-ranked Irishman (No. 25 in the world) in the field at Firestone, where he claimed his first PGA Tour victory last year. In this third Bridgestone appearance, he came from two strokes down in the final round with a 4-under-par 66, and holed an 11-foot birdie putt on the final hole after escaping the trees following a wild drive to finish two strokes ahead of Bubba Watson. Lowry took a four-stroke lead into the final round of the U.S. Open after a 65 in round three at Oakmont two weeks ago but closed with a 76 and finished in a tie for second that is his best result in a major championship.
  1. Adam Scott, Australia — Scott’s game seems to be warming up again after a hot start to the season, as he has finished in the top 20 in his last three outings, including a tie for 18th in the U.S. Open at Oakmont. He claimed the first of his two victories in the World Golf Championships in the 2011 Bridgestone, leading all the way after an opening 62 and winning by four shots over Rickie Fowler and Luke Donald of England. Scott’s second WGC title came earlier this year in the Cadillac Championship at Doral, a week after he also captured the Honda Classic to start the Florida swing. He also has runner-up finishes in the CIMB Classic and the Northern Trust Open, and ranks behind only Jason Day in the season-long FedEx Cup point standings.
  1. Jordan Spieth, United States — It has been an up-and-down season for the No. 2 player in the World Golf Rankings, who won the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and the Dean & DeLuca Invitational but also has had some indifferent results. Of course, what will be remembered most is the back-nine meltdown in his Masters title defense, at least until he wins his third major. He also had a disappointing tie for 37th in the U.S. Open two weeks ago. Spieth will tee it up at Firestone for only the third time, and last year he posted a solid tie for 10th after finishing 49th the year before. His best result in the World Golf Championships was a tie for fifth in the 2014 Match Play. He tied for seventh in the HSBC Champions last year.
  1. Bubba Watson, United States — Bubba is trying to regain the form he had earlier this season when he captured the Northern Trust Open and finished second behind Adam Scott in the WGC-Cadillac Championship is his next outing. He has failed to crack the top 25 in any of his last five events but is due for a good week. Perhaps he can find it at Firestone, where he closed with a 4-under-par 66 last year to wind up second behind Shane Lowry, posting his first top-10 finish in six starts in the Bridgestone. Watson took the lead with a 64 in his first round ever at Firestone in 2010 but shot 74 in the final round and faded to a tie for 22nd. His only victory in the World Golf Championships came in the 2014 HSBC Champions, but he has finished second on four occasions.
  1. Brooks Koepka, United States — Even though Koepka continues to seek his second PGA Tour victory, he is riding a hot streak capped by a tie for 13th in the U.S. Open, when he closed with a 68 at Oakmont. In his previous two tournaments, he lost in a playoff to Sergio Garcia of Spain in the AT&T Byron Nelson and tied for second behind Daniel Berger in the FedEx St. Jude Classic. Koepka, whose only PGA Tour victory came in the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, is making his second start at Firestone and last year he took an instant liking to the classic course by reeling off four scores in the 60s to tie for sixth. His best result in the World Golf Championships was a tie for fifth in the Dell-Match Play in March.
  1. Justin Rose, England — Looking for a midseason jump-start, Rose might be able to find it in the Bridgestone, where he has three top-five finishes in the last four years and five overall in 14 Firestone appearances. A year ago, he took the lead with a third-round 63 but shot 72 in the final round to tie for third, a year after he tied for fourth after opening with 65-67, and three years ago he finished 66-67 to tie for fifth. In 2007, Rose tied for second but was eight shots behind runaway winner Tiger Woods. Although he is having a decent season with five top-10 results that include a tie for 10th in the Masters, Rose is looking for better, especially after he missed the cut in the U.S. Open at Oakmont.
  1. Matt Kuchar, United States — Kooch will try to get back on the top-10 train this week in the Bridgestone after a disappointing tie for 46th in the U.S. Open, where he slid down the leaderboard with a closing 76. Before that, he posted four straight top 10s, including a tie for third in the Players Championship, and six in his previous eight outings. This will be his eighth start at Firestone, where his best finish was a tie for eighth in 2012, when he closed with a 68, and he also tied for ninth in 2010, falling back from near the lead with a closing 73. Kuchar’s only victory in the World Golf Championships came in the 2013 Match Play, when he beat defending champion Hunter Mahan 2 and 1 in the final.
  1. Jim Furyk, United States — After a late start to 2016 because of surgery on his left wrist, Furyk seemed to be all the way back when he was in the chase at the U.S. Open, closing with a 66 to tie for second. The 46-year-old had enough to come back with a tie for 21st in the Quicken Loans National last week, bouncing back from an opening 73 with 68s in the second and final rounds. Furyk is making his 17th start at Firestone, and while he has never won there, he lost in a playoff to Tiger Woods in 2001 and tied for second in 2012 behind Keegan Bradley, among 10 finishes in the top 10 that include a tie for third last year.

–Courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

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