Frazzled looks at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational and has selections in the Outright Market, Top American and Top GB & Ireland markets.
WGC Bridgestone Invitational Preview:
We were out earlier this week with our preview of the Barracuda Championship, but there in no question that it is dwarfed this week by the WGC Bridgestone Invitational from the South Course at Firestone Country Club in Akron Ohio.
The Bridgestone Invitational (formerly known as the NEC Invitational when it first became a World Golf Championship event) has been played under the WGC banner since 1999. It has always been held at the Firestone Country Club (South Course) in Akron, Ohio although its position in the calendar has changed since 2007. Prior to this change it was always played after the PGA Championship, but now that it is played before the final major of the season it has altered the dynamic of the event to some extent.
The course was originally designed by Bert Wray and opened in 1929. It was modified by Robert Trent Jones ahead of the 1960 PGA Championship (which it hosted again in 1966 and 1975) and Jack Nicklaus added some further modifications in 1986.
As is the norm with this event there is a reduced elite field, with 76 players teeing up this week and there is no cut at half way. The "monster" as it has been described by greats such as Arnold Palmer, is an exceptionally long course for a Par 70 and measures 7,400 yards. Seven of the Par 4s measure in excess of 460 yards, three of the Par 3s measure in excess of 200 yards and although the second hole is a short 526 yard Par 5, the signature 16th hole is a 667 yard monster with a pond at the front of the green making any attempt to reach the green in 2 shots both very difficult and extremely risky.
This is a tree lined course with reasonably generous fairways, but with obvious trouble to be found if the fairways are missed. The bentgrass/poa annua mix greens are below average size, but are to run to a very quick 13' on the stimpmeter, which make them a real test and they also well protected by bunkers and are undulating with many containing quite sever slopes.
Although Firestone seems to have a reputation as a bombers course, there are many players such as Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson, Miguel Angel Jimenez and more recently Jason Dufner that have consistently performed well here. This is because accurate driving in addition to length is very important. The reason is essentially because the second shot is crucial at this venue and finding trouble from the tee will make finding Greens in Regulation ("GIR") virtually impossible. The course ranked in the Top 10 lowest in both driving accuracy (55.6% of fairways hit) and GIR (59.36%) last year and finding these greens has always been crucial to success at this event, with 11 of the last 14 winners ranking in the Top 10 in this category and the likes of Keegan Bradley ranking 12th when winning here in 2012.
The course does not lend itself to numerous birdie opportunities and was the second toughest Par 70 played in non-majors last year, so taking advantage of any chances that present themselves will be very important. It goes without saying that putting will be crucial this week on these difficult surfaces and two of the last 5 winners ranked first in Putting Average, with the ranking of 5th for Tiger Woods last year, being the worst of any winner in the past 5 years. As there are only 8 Par 5s to be faced all week and with the 16th averaging 5.01 in 2013, the scoring opportunities on the long holes are limited and it is Par 4 scoring that will real mean the difference between winning and losing this week. Tiger Woods played these holes in an exceptional -12 last year and was 4 shots better than the next best in Jason Dufner, who was in turn 3 clear of Jimenez on -5 for these 48 holes. Tiger was only -1 for the Par 5s and the winner is likely to need a better balance between the two over the four days, but scoring on the Par 4s is likely to determine how the leaderboard looks on Sunday.
In terms of the profile of winner, it is worth noting that Hunter Mahan is the only winner since the event has been on the WGC roster (1999) that has not won a major, but with the talent that is in the field, it might not be worth isolating those that have failed to do so. The winner however is likely to be very high class however and is very likely to be a major winner in waiting.
The other guides that are useful to this week are that it is not a course where players win on their debut (putting us off Jimmy Walker) and form in this event ties in very well with the other WGC strokeplay event played in the States, which is the WGC Cadillac Event played at the Blue Monster, Trump Doral. Form at Augusta always seem to act as a good guide as well, which is not surprising given that similar demands are placed on the golfers, with a long tree lined venue and extremely fast and undulating greens.
Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott dominate the head of the market this week, which is no surprise as they are the best two players in World Golf at the moment and were easily the best two players at Hoylake. However both look very short this week, with doubts as to whether Rory can settle back into a rhythm so quickly after his Open victory and Scott possibly having his mind on the PGA Championship next week and having a patchy record here since his 2011 victory.
Obviously Tiger Woods has to be hugely respected and if he is going to suddenly bounce back to form, it is likely to be at this venue, where he has won 8 times, but we are having only one bet on the Outright market and the value looks to lie with Jason Day.
Day is on our shortlist for Valhalla next week and taking the early 33/1 might be a good idea, as a big performance this week will see those odds shorten. However it also underlines what value he is this week in a reduced 76 runner field at 45/1. Despite an injury interrupted campaign, Day has had an excellent season, following up his victory in the Handa World Cup of Golf with a victory over Victor Dubuisson in the WGC Accenture World Matchplay in February. He has been accused of not winning enough in the past, so these victories will have provided him with huge confidence.
Since the Accenture, he was troubled by injury, but he put in another solid display when finishing 20th in The Masters and after an enforced lay off, he came back to finish 4th in the US Open, after a poor opening round put him on the back foot for the week. A solid week at the Travellers was followed by two poor performances, but the links courses in the UK do not seem to suit him and his missed cut at The Open is not a real concern.
Day has some positive course form to call upon here as he was 4th in 2011, building on a 22nd on his debut in 2010 and this really is a venue that is made to fit for him. He is a long if possibly wayward driver and is solid with his irons. However his real strength comes closer to the hole, as he is an outstanding putter and has a brilliant around the green game. He is long enough to take advantage of the opportunities on the Par 5 holes and was joint first in Par 5 Scoring in 2011 and his ability around the greens should see him both convert birdies and scramble to save Par when needed on the Par 4 holes.
Despite not being a major winner, Day is now a WGC champion and he has 3 Top 3 finishes in the US Open, 2 Top 3 finishes at The Masters and 2 Top 10 finishes in the PGA Championship. He very much fits the mould of a major winner in waiting and his price this week of 45/1 looks very appealing with 5 places being paid each way in a field of 76.
With Jason Day as our main pick and with the head of the market dominated by McIlroy and Scott, followed by other real contenders this week in Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia and possibly Martin Kaymer, we have looked for ways of backing some other players that make appeal, but do not look to be in as competitive a market.
Keegan Bradley has a brilliant record at this venue, which he describes as one of his favourites and with form figures of 15-1-2, he looks set to enjoy another excellent week. The course suits him perfectly as he is as good a driver of the ball as there is in World Golf, with possibly only Adam Scott being ahead of him in this area. He is very long and accurate and ranks 15th in Driving Distance and 12th in Total Driving. He is also very solid with his irons and ranks 62nd in GIR, while he is 42nd in Strokes Gained Putting, 45th in Putting Average and 27th in Par 4 Performance. He therefore ticks all the boxes in terms of what is required for this venue and previous course form.
Bradley has had quite a solid season with some excellent finishes like 2nd in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, 4th in the US Open, among 5 Top 10 finishes and he was a solid 19th at Hoylake on his last outing. However it is quite some time since he won an event and he will be very focused this week, as it presents him with an excellent opportunity to end this drought.
He is now 22/1 for Outright victory and it looks short enough, but the 14/1 on Top American makes plenty of appeal. He has course form which is superior to any of his countrymen, other than Tiger Woods (even allowing for the consistency of Jim Furyk) and with real doubts about what Tiger can do this week; he looks very appealing in this market.
1 point each way - Top GB & Ireland Player at 22/1 with BetVictor
Our final selection this week is in the GB & Ireland market and is the Scot Stephen Gallacher. Obviously Rory will take huge beating in this market if he is near his best, but there are doubts among many of the players here, with both Lee Westwood and Luke Donald struggling for form and now facing real pressure for their Ryder Cup spots. Graeme McDowell has a very average here, as does Ian Poulter and it leaves the market quite appealing for golfers that should really enjoy this test and are a very healthy price.
Gallacher is exactly that and he obtained valuable experience last year when he was 44th on his first appearance in the event since 2005. He is playing some great golf this year and retained his Desert Classic title, as well as finishing 5th in the PGA Championship at Wentworth, 2nd in the Nordea Masters, 4th in the Scottish Open and a very solid 15th last time at Hoylake. He is a very long driver of the ball and an outstanding iron player, but it is his improvement both on the greens and around the green, which has really been eye catching this year.
Gallacher has also performed well in the key form guide events this year, finishing 15th in The Masters and 10th in the WGC Cadillac Championship. We would not put anyone off the 150/1 with Boylesports in the Outright market, but it is the 22/1 that appeals to us with BetVictor in the Top GB & Ireland. An each way double on Gallacher and Bradley may also interest followers, although we are not putting this up as an additional event.
Total Advised Bets - 6.5 points