A small but extremely potent field is poised for a 72-hole slugfest when the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational begins Thursday at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.
Sixty-one of the world’s best, including world No. 1 Jason Day, reigning FedExCup champion, Jordan Spieth, and newly minted U.S. Open winner Dustin Johnson, will vie for the Gary Player Cup and a $9.5 million purse.
The South Course at Firestone isn’t the most exciting layout on the PGA TOUR, but it is one of the most exacting, a brutish 7,400 yards at par 70 with one of the most famous holes on the TOUR, the 667-yards par-5 16th. It is also one of the TOUR’s most traditional layouts, first hosting a tournament in 1954 with the Rubber City Open, won by Tommy Bolt.
For the first time since the inception of the World Golf Championships, all the WGC trophies belong to international players. The last American winner was Johnson last year at Trump Doral in the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
Popular CBS Sports golf announcer Gary McCord takes a look at this week’s storylines and offers his usual brand of intrepid analysis.
What makes Firestone South such a compelling course?
It’s iconic. There have been things done there that people remember, starting with the old CBS Golf Classic, all the majors, the WGCs, the great winners. It’s Firestone. It’s still got that big ball on the tower. The golf course still holds its own. It’s still long. It’s still hard, and it’s maddeningly straight, which drives the guys nuts, because eventually, after so much time trying to hit it straight, they get crooked. And then they have rough and trees and all sorts of trouble.
Is Firestone South the perfect place for an encore for Dustin Johnson?
If you hit it 350 with a little cut, I don’t think there’s a golf course in the world where you can’t have fun. So, yeah, this place should be great for DJ.
Like all these guys, the best way to go about this is to have the shortest memory in the world. These really good players have really, really short memories. They take care of business the next week. Shane will develop that, and he’ll be just fine.
Billy Hurley is all of a sudden playing in a lot of great events, including this one. Feel-good story of the year?
No question. With all that’s happened to him? Are you kidding? Go hire three Hollywood writers to come up with this story, and they’d sit there and say, ‘Nah, this is too far-fetched.’ This is a fairy tale with a happy ending.
Olympics briefly. What do you make of the latest withdrawals Tuesday of world No. 1 Jason Day and Lowry?
The Olympians have every four years for their sports. We deal in a weekly situation. We don’t have that immediacy with the Olympics like other athletes. This is their shot, and they go. Is this the right thing? They all have the right to make that decision. Could this be the death knell for golf in the Olympics? We’ll see. I think we could see eight to 10 more drop out. It’s a shame, but that’s the way it’s going. I don’t blame them. It’s a totally different deal for golfers.
Favorites and dark horses?
You can run through the field and every guy is a favorite, that’s how strong it is. The obvious guys are Jason Day, DJ. Dustin is freewheeling it now. I like Spieth. He needs to get going. He needs to stop fumbling around and hit one for this crunch time that’s coming up. There are no dark horses. But Matt Kuchar is sort of the perfect show pony long shot.
Journalist and author David Shedloski of Columbus, Ohio, has been covering golf since 1986, first as a daily newspaper reporter and later as a freelance writer for various magazines and Internet outlets. A winner of 23 national writing awards, including 20 for golf coverage, Shedloski is currently a contributing writer for Golf World and GolfDigest.com and serves as editorial director for The Memorial, the official magazine of the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio. He is the author of three books and has contributed to three others, including the second edition of “Golf For Dummies,” with Gary McCord. He’s a fan of all Cleveland professional sports teams, the poor fellow.