July 31, 2014

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Bridgestone kicks off PGA Tour stretch run

AKRON — They’ll have to wait to exhale this time.
The Bridgestone Invitational, a tournament that usually follows the PGA Championship, is being played a week before the final major this year and will be a major factor in terms of how the month of August shakes out.
Instead of an all-star event to showcase the best in golf, it’s a chance for players to jockey for position with the FedExCup starting at the end of the month.
The nice break the pros are used to is now jam-packed with the Bridgestone, PGA Championship and The Barclays — the first round of the four-week FedExCup — all coming in a span of 28 days.
“It’s very condensed,” said Steve Stricker, last year’s PGA Tour Comeback Player of the Year. “You know, the Tour has put all these tournaments together like this, so I imagine that the better players are going to play more often.
“I looked forward to this stretch maybe a month ago. I was kind of eyeing it up and saying, ‘You know, I’d better make sure that I’m prepared physically and mentally for the last stretch.’”
Stricker, who has runner-up finishes at AT&T National and Wachovia this year, isn’t alone in that thinking.
While players such as Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh are locks for the FedEx, positioning is at a premium in the weeks leading up to the event.
That’s led to more of the top-tier pros playing more tournaments. It’s also made this stretch of the schedule, which is essentially three big-time tournaments in four weeks, almost as important as playing in a major, so exhaustion will have take a backseat.
“Four events is a lot to play in a row,” British Open champion Padraig Harrington said. “I’ve got this event, next week, then I take the week off in between, then the four.
“I have to try to play decent enough to make it into the last one. I know if I go into those four weeks and get hot from the position I’m in, any player who wins two would most likely win the FedExCup.
“It is a long number of events — four events — but they’re all in nice places.”
After a lesser tournament for the Tour — the Canadian Open — last week, the grind begins at Firestone Country Club today. The end comes Sept. 16 at the Tour Championship.
So players like Woods, who usually take the week off before a major, can’t sit on past accomplishments.
“It’s going to be hard,” said Woods, who has won here five times, including the last two. “Obviously we have these two weeks, then the FedExCup and then the Presidents Cup. There’s a lot of events all together. You know after all that you get a nice break, which is nice.”
Stewart Cink, who won at Firestone in 2004 and lost a four-hole playoff to Woods last year, has a different outlook.
He’s never been one to back away from competition, but at the same time, he’s gearing himself up for the PGA Championship and the grind that follows.
“Firestone is definitely the kind of course you want to play to get ready for a major championship because it’s as tough as a major championship,” he said. “You come off this week feeling like you got beat up by a major championship course and then you go to the PGA, playing a major championship.
“You’re mentally going to be ready after this week.”
Contact Brad Bournival at sports@ohio.net.