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Paul Williams' tips for the 2011 WGC Bridgestone Invitational
With just a week to go before the final Major of the year, we take our annual trip to Akron, Ohio for the 3rd WGC event of the season at the fabulous Trent Jones-designed South Course at Firestone. The tough 7,400 yard par 70 features tight, tree-lined fairways leading to small bent/poa greens that will measure around 13 on the stimp; 6 of the par 4s are over 450 yards and the brutal 677 yard par 5 16th is a match for even the longest of hitters - all in all a course and event worthy of its WGC status.
The return of Tiger Woods is the big story this week from a media point of view, however prices generally in the 18/1 bracket (19/1 with BetClic) from most bookies put his perceived chances into perspective. Tiger loves this event - he's won it in 7 out of 10 attempts - but concerns over his recovery from the recent injury means that he's at the longest price to win a tournament seen for many a year. Without a crystal ball it's impossible to second guess how he'll fare - perhaps the best course of action is to cover him off with a no lose bet from BetClic: Bet £30 on Woods at their current price of 19/1 and win £570 (plus your £30 back) if he does win; if he doesn't win then you get your money back in full: Full details here. If you've already used up your BetClic free bet then there's some alternatives here: No Lose Bets
With the World's elite warming up for the PGA Championship, this is always a cracking event and you could justifiably make a case for almost all of the players. With such a stellar field on display, we're going to need to cut the number of contenders down to a manageable size before making our selections - thankfully there are some rock-solid trends to consider and I'll use these to narrow down to the likely candidates:
1. Other than Tiger Woods, nobody has won this event at their first attempt...let's assume that will continue. That removes 11 players including Matteo Mannassero, Gary Woodland and last week's winner in the US Scott Stallings.
2. Players with a link to Florida, Georgia or nearby Southern States succeed - every single winner since 1997 either has a residence there, schooled there or was brought up from one of those states. That removes a further 31 players including Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, both Molinaris and Rory McIlroy.
3. At 7,400 yards you will need to have at least moderate length off the tee to compete around here in my opinion. I've discounted anyone not inside the top 100 for their respective Tour stats for driving distance in 2011. That removes a further 15 players including World number 1 Luke Donald, fellow Englishmen Poulter and Rose, plus David Toms and Zach Johnson.
4. Every winner since 2000 has either a win or multiple top 5 finishes on their respective Tours in the season to date. That removes a further 8 players including defending champion Hunter Mahan, Tiger Woods and Rickie Fowler.
5. You need to putt extremely well here to survive the week - it's no surprise that Mahan and Ryan Palmer, last year's 1&2, were 1st and 2nd for overall putting at the end of the week. Anyone not inside the top 50 for putts per GIR on their respective Tour fails this hurdle: Bill Haas, Darren Clarke, Sean O'Hair, Louis Oosthuizen and Bubba Watson.
That leaves us a shortlist of just 8: Jonathan Byrd, Ernie Els, Lucas Glover, Dustin Johnson, Robert Karlsson, GMac, Alex Noren and Charl Schwartzel. I'm going to discount Byrd on current form (4 missed cuts on the trot), Els on his continued putter issues (can't believe he's still in the top 50 on the Euro tour for putting!) and Alex Noren who may be mentally fatigued after 2 tough wins in the last 2 months. My selections then:
GMac may well be feeling a little left out after all the hullabaloo surrounding his Major-winning compatriots in recent weeks, however now he's got the US Open monkey well and truly off his back I think it's time for him to let his golf do the talking once again and he makes my top selection here at an outstanding price. The Irish Open has unlikely to be the time or place for him to get back on the winning trail with the media frenzy and hype that surrounded the Irish players, however 4 solid rounds produced a creditable 25th place finish - the perfect springboard for further improvement this week and he'll certainly be spurred on to greater things after the recent successes of his good friends.
The Florida-based Irishman is most at home on tough layouts where finding greens with precise ironplay is key - giving him the chance to make valuable birdies with his superb putting stroke. On the basis that an in-form Tiger Woods loves Firestone, it's also worth considering that GMac has played some of Tiger's favourite courses well in recent times - 6th at the Honda Classic this season and his incredible victory at the Chevron World Challenge over Tiger himself last December are 2 recent examples.
McDowell finished 22nd here last year for his best effort at Firestone to date and will be looking to improve on that further. The World number 12 has also gained a few yards with the driver in recent times which will help here and 70/1 could look extremely long come Sunday afternoon...RESULT: 65
Masters champions Schwartzel could well be ready to get himself into the winners circle once again and of course ticks all the boxes here. Another European with a Florida base for his US excursions, The World number 10 has been simmering away over the last few weeks with finishes of 26th at Sawgrass, 22nd at Memorial, 9th at Congressional, 16th at Sandwich and 9th in Canada - it's only going to take a small improvement to get really in the mix and this should suit him down to the ground on his preferred fast bentgrass-based greens despite indifferent form in this event on his 2 previous attempts at Firestone. RESULT: T53
Surely a Major winner of the future, Dustin Johnson has the power to win around Firestone for sure - ultimately it could come down to mental fortitude, and the fact this isn't a Major could work in DJ's favour here. 2nd in Kent a couple of weeks back was another creditable Major performance for the South Carolina native, backing up a strong 2011 with top-5 finishes at Torrey Pines, Doral and Memorial proving that he's just as at-home competing on tough, technical tracks as he is on wide-open bomber's courses. The World number 7 has improved at Firestone from 22nd (2009) to 15th here last year - perfect progression for a contending performance this week. RESULT: T48
The US Open champion of 2009 is a tough one to pin down in terms of form, however the newly-bearded Glover's win at Quail Hollow back in May proved that you can never write him off - particularly in this kind of event on a tough course. The South Carolina man flirted with the lead at Sandwich before finishing a creditable 12th - this will be much more to his liking and he could well go close this week, particularly if his putter continues to warm up as it has been in recent times. RESULT: T23
We scored a 50/1 winner with Karlsson in Dubai last year and of the 3-figure players on display the Swede holds the most interest. The 6' 5" giant struggled to control his ball flight in the wind at Sandwich, however form prior to that was solid with a playoff defeat at TPC Southwind and further top 10s on the European Tour in Bahrain and Qatar. Struggled again in Stockholm on a windy Sunday to ultimately finish 16th however the relatively calm forecast for Ohio will be much more to the liking of the Swede who ranks 1st for average putts and 3rd for putts per GIR on the European Tour for the season to date - a facet of his game which will be of great benefit this week I feel. 100/1 about the talented World number 18 player is just far too tempting to miss this week! RESULT: T17
To check out the current best odds per player at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational click here: Golf Odds
Odds and bookmaker offers correct at 19:45BST 2.8.11 but naturally subject to fluctuation