Firestone Intrigue

The World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational begins today at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, and with all the top players in the world playing this week, there are a lot of great stories that will come out of there.

But the one that sort of captured my attention is the Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Steve Williams story.

The Tiger Woods story begins with the fact that he owns Firestone and the various iterations of tournaments that have been played on it, most recently the WGC-Bridgestone. Of those twelve tournaments that he’s played in — remember the famous “shot in the dark” he hit to a foot on 18? — he’s won seven of them.

I look forward to playing it. This is one of my favorites. It’s straightforward. It’s right in front of you. There’s no tricks. There’s no hidden things. It’s just right there in front of you, and this has been one of the more historic sites on the Tour. For us to come back here year after year, you can see it when the big three played here in their challenge matches and then obviously the World Series of Golf to what we do here now at Bridgestone. It’s an historic site. The golf course is the same, just longer, and it’s fun to play.

Adam Scott is the defending champion from last year’s tournament, winning by four strokes. Unfortunately, it was most notable for his new caddie, Steve Williams’ wounded rant about how it was the best victory in his entire career. This may have been how he felt in the moment, but it rang a little hollow for one reason: he had recently been unceremoniously fired by Tiger Woods after a lot of great years and his bitterness over that was pretty much all that was on display. Asked this year about whether Williams had apologized for overshadowing his win, Scott said:

Yeah, we sorted that out the next week, and obviously that wasn’t his intention at all, but it seemed like he got a bit mobbed there, and what happened happened. But that was not his intention at all.

Scott comes into the tournament after his disappointing loss at the British Open where he bogeyed the last four holes to open the door for Ernie Els to win. How had the ensuing days been for him?

They were okay. To be honest, I really just felt a bit shocked and almost numb of feeling about it. I certainly didn’t beat myself up and have to curl up in a corner.

But it just all kind of happened so fast, even looking back on it, how quickly it can slip away. And without doing that much wrong, it was just compounding mistakes. You know, I felt overall the whole week and the way I’ve looked at it is I played some amazing golf and did what I needed to do, and the things I’ve worked on are obviously working.

The next few days were quiet, but they were just the same as after any other major. I pretty much find myself on the couch for about 48 hours after a major.

Asked to expound a little more on how he was really feeling, what the “healing” process had been like he said:

Look, I can imagine how it probably looked. I haven’t watched the coverage myself yet, but — and if it was me watching somebody else, I certainly could feel for them. But for me, I really haven’t — I’m disappointed that I didn’t win from that position, but I left that major the same as I’ve left every other one, and that’s empty-handed. I’ve been disappointed a lot of times at majors, even though I’ve never been closer to one maybe.

There wasn’t that much healing for me. I mean, my game is in really great shape, and I just took a few days to rest up, and I certainly analyzed the last few holes a little bit and took out of it what I wanted and then just thought about how great I played. I felt like it was my week, and I played like a champion, but I just didn’t — I played four poor holes at the end, and you can’t win and do that.

It’s just motivation for me. I think I’m right on the right track, keep doing what I’m doing and I can get myself more chances like that.

The other interesting thing that came out of both Tiger’s and Adam’s interviews was a lot of questions and attention paid to next week’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, South Carolina. Tiger and his caddie, Joe LaCava got a practice round in before flying up to Firestone:

It’s going to take a little bit of getting used to, because one, being seaside, the wind can change. The wind comes out of different directions. It being — the way Pete designed it is for that. There’s so much room out there, but as soon as the wind starts blowing 20, 30 miles an hour, there’s not much room. There’s so many collection areas and where you have to miss the golf ball to give yourself the correct angle. Do you pitch into the wind? Do you pitch downwind? Where do you leave yourself on these different angles? Pete [Dye] did just a fantastic job in testing us on that.

You know, I need some more practice rounds on it for sure, but I did most of our charting and still would like to see it under different wind conditions because we only played one wind yesterday.

Scott and Steve Williams also stopped by Kiawah on the way and they came away with a similarly cautionary view of it:

Yeah, it was interesting, it wasn’t quite what I expected, although I didn’t — I’d only seen the pictures in magazines, which obviously are quite stunning. Yeah, it’s two different nine holes. The front nine is a really nice, playable golf course, and then the back nine is not. (Laughter.)

The back nine is very severe, and it’s going to really — it’s going to be interesting down there. Look, it rained a lot while I was there the last two days, and it’s playing very soft and very long. You know, it’s going to be very weather dependent. There’s good scores out there in good weather, but if the wind blows, it’s just going to be very difficult, even if they move tees forward and stuff like that. Green complexes are very severe on some holes, and there is — it’s just extreme penalty for a miss. There’s water one side and big waste bunkers the other. It’s certainly going to need some ball-striking.

It will be interesting to see how Scott defends, how Tiger tries to recapture the magic and, with their Kiawah practice rounds and all of the questions that came out of that, to what extend they’ll be looking forward to next week’s PGA Championship. They both really want to win their first and next major.

Overall, this will be a great tournament to watch. With of limited field of just 78 players, we have the creme de la creme, they’ll be playing it twosomes and the Tour played around a little with the pairings:

Tiger will be paired with the European Tour’s Branden Grace. The hook? They’ve both won three times this year. For Grace, twice in his native South Africa and once in China. For Tiger, Bay Hill, The Memorial and his own at Congressional.

Last year’s PGA Champion, Keegan Bradley will be paired with Jason Dufner, the guy he beat in the playoff. You wonder if this will discourage the PGA from doing the same thing.

Then you’ve got Ernie Els and Bubba Watson, “The Big Easy,” versus “Mr. Homegrown.”

And the marquee pairings of Phil Mickelson and Luke Donald and Adam Scott and Matt Kuchar.

As I said, it’ll be a great tournament to watch on a great golf course.

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