Firestone Country Club – South Course
The boys will tee it up at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational held at lush Firestone Country Club (South Course) in Akron, Ohio. Firestone South has been the host since the inception of the event in 1999 and this is the 19th annual WGC-BI and 18th at Firestone South. Of the last seven winners at this event, four are major champions. Actually, most WGC events are won by major champions. That narrative is especially true here at Firestone where 14 of the 16 winners at Firestone, are major champions. This is further bolstered by the fact that the only first-time Tour winner at this event was Shane Lowry a few years back. Therefore it is likely the winner and those most likely to have success in general will be an experienced pro with a well rounded game.
The Numbers – Firestone, 7,400 yards, Par 70 (35-35)
This 1960 Robert Trent Jones redesign has aged gracefully and will continue to challenge to the top players in the world this week. The course features tree-lined fairways that are some of the most difficult on the Tour to hit consistently. Being accurate off the tee will certainly help players succeed this week. However, at 7,400 yards, the long bomb wont hurt but accurate ballstrikers and upper echelon short-game players have contended and will contend again here at Firestone.
Architect(s): Bert Way (1928) & Robert Trent Jones
Green Type: Pencross Bentgrass with poa annua
Green Speed: 13 on stimp meter (quick and fast)
Green Size: On average 7,500 sq. feet (large)
Fairways: Narrow with some increased landing areas
Rough: Medium-Thick (Kentucky blue @ 3+ inches)
The course will play all of the 7,400 yards and the Par 70 (both sides are par 35) features almost 100 bunkers and three distinct three water hazards. The water is all by the greens and should not effect any tee shots. The large greens do allow for players to recover from missed fairways but all the greens are well protected by difficult bunkering. This is a Trent Jones trademark and accuracy on approach will be key.
These elevated and protected greens will force players to carry the ball on to the green to avoid the bunkers and thickish rough or necesitate very strategic placement if they chose to not go for the green. This is not to say that the course is impossible and good shots will be rewarded with birdie opportunities especially those shots placed and flighted appropriately into the varied and tiered green complexes. But the test is not over since players will have to compete against the lightning fast Bentgrass greens and therefore players will have to be decent with the flat stick.
With a par 70 featuring only two par 5s, par 4 scoring and bogey avoidance will always be key if not featured stats. One of the two Par 5s, the 16th hole will play almost 700 yards and thus is a three-shot hole. Three of the four par 3s will play over 200 yards (see below). So really the play on the Par 4s is key. Here are the top five stat categories that we will be focusing on:
1. Strokes Gained: Tee to Green (SG:T2G):
This is a very important stat overall, it was featured last week as well, but if you examine how golfers have been successful here over the last ten years, this stat in particular jumps out. To the extent possible focus on players who both have the overall talent at gaining strokes (historically) from tee to green but in particular those who have had recent success in SG:T2G.
2. Par 4 Scoring (P4):
Whenever the course is a par 70 course with twelve par 4s, Par 4 scoring is essential. In the last ten years almost all players in the top 10 this event had above average weeks in Par 4 scoring. This can come from ball striking or from the below featured scrambling stat or best yet a combination of both.
In the same 10 year window as examined above, only 60% of greens were hit in regulation at Firestone. All players, at some point this week, will have to get up and down and some will have to do it frequently.
4. Good Drive % (GD%):
This stat showcases the combination of fairways hit and greens in regulation hit from the fairway. Similar to the SG:T2G above but with slight variation and another good measure of what we are looking for this week, a player with overall talent from tee to green who can meet the many challenges this course presents.
5. Prox 175-200 yards & from 200 yards plus
Because of the course length most of the approach shots will come from these two distances. This is also the distance for most of the par 3s. Prox stats in general are important and it’s likely these distances will play the largest role in determining success this week.
Remember this is a small field, no cut, invitational event and the field will be back to full strength since we do not have to compete against the pull of the French Open in Paris this year as we did last year. I think this is good for the tournament and some international names certainly dot the list of previous winners: Shane Lowry, 11 under, Rory McIlroy, 15 under, Keegan Bradley, 13 under and Adam Scott, 17 under.
Firestone is annually one of the hardest par 70 courses on tour and has even reached as high as eighth overall for most difficult course on tour. You will find a path to success this week if you focus on the stats above and players with the experience and pedigree to handle this test which is similar to that of a major.