There are 80 professionals competing at the Bridgestone Invitational this week, but only one opponent that every golfer is worried about.
And it isn’t Tiger Woods. In fact, it isn’t a player at all but the 7,400-yard Firestone Country Club South Course.
Most weeks, the pros come chasing either a win in a major or the world’s hottest golfer. But when they come to Firestone, they come knowing everyone is pretty much an equal on the par-70 layout.
With Woods out, it drives the point home even more.
“This is such a great setup for the best players in the world to separate themselves,” said Phil Mickelson, a three-time major winner. “There’s a huge reward to hitting fairways here because the rough is tough to control into these greens and the greens are difficult. I think it gives guys a chance to showcase their skills as opposed to having the penalty be the same for everybody.”
Firestone does have its character, which is a big reason why the PGA Tour and World Golf Championships keep coming back to Warner Road, bringing the top 50 golfers in the world plus members of the Ryder and Presidents Cup.
It was the site of the World Series of Golf for 22 years before taking on Bridgestone, which used to be called the NEC Invitational.
And Firestone has given golfers quite a few blowouts over the years.
The only course in the world to have held three televised golf events in one calendar year – The American Golf Classic, CBS Golf Classic and World Series of Golf – Firestone got its identity in 1960 thanks to Arnold Palmer.
The golf great dubbed the 16th hole “The Monster” after he took a triple-bogey 8 that probably cost him the championship won by Jay Hebert.
Fast-forward 48 years and you can still hear professionals drop a couple less-than-PG-13 comments after walking off the hole that now measures 667 yards.
It was rated the fourth-hardest course on the tour behind Oakmont, Augusta National and Southern Hills last year with a 2.8 above-par average.
That the three courses ahead of it hosted the U.S. Open, the Masters and the PGA Championship shows you just why the pros respect it so much.
It also shows why Firestone has been a fixture in the sport for many years and will most likely continue being the face of some of the best golf in the world.
“There’s not a whole lot of figuring out to play here,” said Stewart Cink, who won the event in 2004. “You don’t come here with a game plan and think that the game itself is going to carry you through like other courses. Zach Johnson is a good example. At the Masters he laid up on all the par-5s and ended up winning. Here you don’t have a whole lot of risk-reward type holes.
“You just have to hit it in the fairways. If your game is not on or you’re hitting a little crooked and you’re hitting it in the rough, you can’t make birdies. That basically explains it.”
Contact Brad Bournival at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.