Jhonny Vegas took one down for Team Course History last week, breaking out of a five-event missed cut streak in a big way!
Course history should prove relevant again this week, or at least course experience, since nobody has won this event during their debut since Tiger Woods in 1999 (the inaugural edition).
Scott Piercy explained why course experience matters last year when he had this to say about Firestone Country Club, “You’ve got to really know the angles into the greens. It’s okay to miss it maybe in the right rough to get a shot at the green, or in the left rough.” You can pickup a general idea of where to miss just by mapping the course in practice rounds, but having a memory bank of past experience is a big boost at Firestone.
Basically we are looking at a Pete Dye design on steroids. Firestone Country Club is a classical layout designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. that requires proper placement off the tee. However, at 7,400 yards, you still have to hit quite a few drivers around here, especially if the course gets hit with rain. If it plays firm and fast then the heavy-sloped fairways will run for miles and even the shorter hitter will be able to club down.
Whether the course is playing soft or firm, these fairways are always some of the toughest to hit because they are rather narrow and the heavy slopes force you to hit your spots, or else the ball is just going to runaway into the thick stuff. It’s a very demanding course when it comes to driving the golf ball.
From a course setup point-of-view, there are seven par 4s over 460 yards! As you’d expect from a course with so many long par 4s, there are really no makeup holes to recover from disaster (except maybe the par-5 second). This is not a venue where you can easily hide from poor ball-striking.
Golfers that have scored the best on long par 4s over the last few seasons include: Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Dustin Johnson, Lee Westwood, Henrik Stenson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, Jason Day, and Matt Kuchar.
Looking for stats, I will focus on GIR studs but driving distance is definitely an advantage I want on my side, as well. From a strokes-gained view, all four sub-categories grade out as relevant. Firestone CC really does test all facets of your game, just like most major championship venues.
For correlated courses, the venues that popped off the page were either similar in terms of fairway width or amount of long par 4s. The top 5 correlated courses include: Muirfield Village, Augusta National, TPC Sawgrass, Riviera CC, and TPC Scottsdale.
For additional course and tournament info in addition to golfer quotes, check out the Fantasy Golfanac.
Players to Watch
Rickie Fowler… Was one of the more popular picks at Royal Birkdale, but he got pushed to the back of the bus and barely talked about over the weekend as the leaderboard was overflowing with talent inside the top 10. There was no reason to talk too much about outsiders at that point. A top 25 at The Open still gained over 5 strokes on the field, the 10th time he’s done that in his last 12 PGA TOUR starts. Despite him shortening the driver, he’s still one of the better drivers in the world. Has four top 10s at Firestone in 7 tries, so experience is on his side, as well. If Rory and DJ had no question marks attached to the state of their game, I think we’d have a four pack at the top, instead I think Fowler and Spieth are the top two favorites for me this week.
Matt Kuchar… Wasn’t his usual self last week, but it was impressive just to make the cut after battling vertigo on Thursday. He gained 2.2 strokes off-the-tee over the weekend after losing 3.05 strokes OTT before the cut. Definitely more like the Kuchar we know over the weekend. As a user of Bridgestone balls, he’d love nothing more than to win this one, but he’s settled for three top 10s in eight tries here. Not the upside of the heavy hitters but his long-iron play and elite short game is what keeps him near the top here at Firestone, year after year.
Jon Rahm… The young Spaniard plays without fear and will challenge these tight fairways with a heavy dose of drivers. I talked about course experience meaning a lot at Firestone CC, but Rahm has been a trend-breaker in terms of not needing any course knowledge in order to repeatedly contend on TOUR.
Bubba Watson… Looking for great drivers, Bubba certainly qualifies. He’s now gained strokes over the field in three straight events (the first time he’s done that since the end of the 2015-16 season). Showcasing a bit of form and just in time as he needs the FedExCup Points, currently sitting at just 117th in the standings.
Paul Casey … If we shift our attention to all-around play, Casey is one that always pops. He’s solid off the tee, elite in approach, and certainly above average in the scrambling department. Has top 30s in 9 of his last 10 starts, that should be 10-of-11 after this week, with a decent chance at returning to the winner’s circle, as well.
Rory McIlroy… Now we get into the wildcard department. Had his best finish in months and he responds by parting ways with his long-time caddie? That’s not a decision that you make on a whim, so I’m guessing Rory has someone pretty good locked up or him and JP really had a falling out. I guess we’ll wait and see but he’s still the best in the world when comparing “A-Games”. Even if it is good friend, Harry Diamond, on the bag then we could still see an uptick in short-term performance since Rory already knows the ins and outs of Firestone and Quail Hollow.
Thomas Pieters… The quickest way to diversify your DFS lineups is to grab some Euro golfers. Pieters is usually my go-to- guy in that department. The closest comps for his round-by-round variance are Patrick Reed and Louis Oosthuizen. The weeks they are clicking, they really fire on all cylinders, but they aren’t afraid of a nasty blowout, either. Pieters also had a near-miss at Riviera, a course I am including in my correlated courses this week.
Rafa Cabrera Bello… A little more steady than Pieters and you have to pay a little extra as a result. A win and T4 in his last two starts. We are no longer on links, but the confidence should still translate.
Patrick Reed… I mentioned Reed having a similar variance-level as Pieters, and I think a Pieters-Reed combo would provide some stellar GPP upside. Playing his 8th week in a row, I’ve found in the past that the win rates rise the more weeks in a row a golfer plays. At the same time, missed-cut probability also rises the more a golfer plays consecutive weeks (no-cut event this week so obviously a MC is not possible). With top 20s in five of his last seven starts, his form is simmering but could quickly come to a boil any week now. I still think he climbs back into the winner’s circle before the end of the season.
Justin Thomas… One hole cost him the week at The Open but that is what you sign up for when you back JT. If you back him on a week he avoids the big number, you’re likely going to find a top 10, but otherwise it can get ugly. With no cut this week, he’s definitely more appealing.
Jason Day… He’s becoming a forgotten man, but playing in his home state this week, now might be the time to take a risk. He has two top 5s in 7 appearances here at Firestone. Maybe his good buddy Tiger can text him to tips to winning here since Tiger hoisted the trophy eight times in 15 tries here in Akron, Ohio.
My Top 25 for the 2017 Bridgestone Invite
1. Rickie Fowler
2. Jordan Spieth
3. Rory McIlroy
4. Dustin Johnson
5. Matt Kuchar
6. Adam Scott
7. Justin Rose
8. Paul Casey
9. Henrik Stenson
10. Jon Rahm
11. Brooks Koepka
12. Jason Day
13. Patrick Reed
14. Thomas Pieters
15. Hideki Matsuyama
16. Justin Thomas
17. Sergio Garcia
18. Marc Leishman
19. Charl Schwartzel
20. Rafa Cabrera Bello
21. Louis Oosthuizen
22. Charley Hoffman
23. Branden Grace
24. Kevin Chappell
25. Bubba Watson