The World Golf Championship (WGC) Invitational gets underway later this week, with the fantastic Firestone Country Club South Course hosting the world’s best golfers. If The Players Championship at Sawgrass is the sport’s fifth unofficial major, this one has to be in contention to be the sixth. It has a purse of almost $10 million available.
Only the best players in the world are invited, with invites handed out to the top 50 ranked players in the world, recent tournament winners and those involved in the last Ryder Cup. Seventy-six players will take on the course as well as each other, and due to the low field number, there is no cut. As if the money and prestige were not enough of an incentive for players to perform well, it is the last PGA event before the fourth and final major of the year.
Form and pointers
The Open champion Jordan Spieth is the early favourite, with Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler next in the betting. Coming off that outstanding finish at Royal Birkdale, it is easy to see why Spieth is expected to pick up where he left off. He has now won his last two tournaments.
Johnson is the reigning champion and will be far more comfortable playing in North America than he is in Europe. Even though he faces a stronger field than last year when most Europeans were absent, he should challenge, but there are still doubts about whether he is fully fit after his injury earlier in the season. McIlroy, meanwhile, overcame a poor start to finish strongly at The Open but has just split with his caddy, so does not go into this in the best shape.
Koepka won the US Open and was sixth in The Open, and this is his only other appearance since winning his first major, so he will be a danger. Henrik Stenson is among players slowly coming into some form while you can never discount Sergio Garcia after his US Masters success. Fowler will be a popular choice and does tend to well at Firestone.
Jhonattan Vegas retained his Canadian Open title last week, and there is a precedent for players carrying form in one tournament into the other – Johnson was second last year before winning the WGC.
Conditions and course
The course is known fondly as “The Monster”, a moniker given to it after Arnold Palmer triple-bogeyed the notoriously long par-5 16th. It is one of the most difficult challenges pro golfers will face, meaning they have to be on top of their game to conquer it. As with any course, those who are accurate off the tee will do well, but the length is arguably more important. Big hitters like Johnson, McIlroy and others are at an advantage here. The course is much the same as it was last year, so do not expect low scoring. Since remodelling the course ahead of 2016, the course is even tougher than it used to be, and it will give players a taste of what is to come at the US PGA next weekend.
The weather forecast is not ideal for Thursday and Friday, and thunderstorms are expected, but with a much smaller field than some events, disruption should be minimal. Some moisture around may lead to more attacking play and players attacking pins more. It should brighten up on Saturday and Sunday, quickening the speed of the greens. Those with experience in the US will be at an advantage if conditions are changeable as adapting will be critical.
With a smaller field than a major, for example, in theory, that should make predictions easier. However, at the WGC, you only have the best players in the world – minus a couple due to injury – so it is a hard one to call. Spieth is a clear favourite and worth a bet. Not only has he won his last two tournaments, but he also hasn’t finished outside the top 10 at this tournament since 2014. Get him at around 8/1 with Sky Bet (they offer six places, by the way) and others while you still can. Kevin Chappell is renowned for doing well on long courses and is worth an each-way punt at 60/1 with bet365 while Jon Rahm, also a big hitter, ought to do well given that he has finished third and second at WGC events this season already. Ladbrokes are offering 25/1 for the Spaniard to make it a European success.
Matt Kuchar has a decent record at Firestone and was in contention almost all the way at The Open. You can back him with many bookmakers at 33/1. Vegas is worth throwing a bit of small change at with odds of 150/1. We also like Hideki Matsuyama at 7/2 with Ladbrokes to be the best from the rest of the world. Tee to green, he remains up there with the very best and the likes of Jason Day and Adam Scott are having poor seasons.