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Tiger Train Rolls into Firestone

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WGC-Bridgestone - 125wAfter the first three majors of the year, the following week on tour is somewhat of a letdown, with most of the world's top players forgoing the event to wind down.
 
The PGA Championship, however, is a different beast due to the fact that right on its heels is the WGC - Bridgestone Invitational, one of the four WGC events that offers up prize money in excess of all four if the major championships.

Formed back in 1962 as a four-man 36-hole exhibition, the tournament didn't become an official PGA TOUR event until 1976. Having been played every year at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, (except in 2003) the event was then added as one of the four World Golf Championships in 1999.
 
And ever since that year Tiger Woods has seemingly owned the place.
 
Phil Mickelson
How will Phil Mickelson respond after his disappointing finish at the PGA Championship?
His stats in the event are staggering - four wins, including three straight starting in '99, a runner-up in 2004 and a pair of fourth-place showings in 2002 and 2003. And yes, he comes in this year as the defending champion after holding off a feisty Chris DiMarco last year.
 
After winning his third PGA Championship last week, Tiger will attempt to win the PGA-WGC combo for a remarkable third time. He won both events in 1999 and 2000 and is looking forward to the prospect of keeping his momentum moving forward.
 
'That's a challenge. It's a challenge for all of us as players. Sometimes you play great one week and you don't have it the next. Welcome to golf. But I'm going to a place that I've had some success at, and I'm looking forward to going there to Firestone, and it's a World Golf Championship, another big event,' said Tiger after his win in Medinah.
 
The other big story line this week outside of who can stop the Tiger train is the jostling for position in terms of the European Ryder Cup squad.
 
A bit unlike the U.S. points list, European players have two ways of qualifying for the squad. The top 5 players on the World Points List as of Sept. 3rd will automatically qualify, as will the top 5 not otherwise qualified from the Ryder Cup Points List.
 
Here are five players, besides Tiger, to keep an eye out on at Firestone:
 
Phil Mickelson
Could go in two directions this week: get back in the saddle after a disappointing showing at Medinah and challenge for the title; or finish well down the leaderboard with thoughts on getting back home to the family. Was runner-up to Woods in 1999 but recent performances have been lackluster, not a top-20 in his last three starts. The three years prior to the event becoming a part of the WGC format, Mickelson had a win in 1996 followed by two straight runners-up.
 
David Toms
Started off year strong with a win at the Sony and then a runner-up and a third at the Ford Championship at Doral and the Honda Classic, respectively. Was in the mix at the halfway point at Medinah before ho-hum weekend left him in a tie for 16th. Last two starts at Firestone were a T-6 in 2004 and a T-9 last year.
 
Stewart Cink
Could take his game up a notch after receiving confidence boost on being named one of captain Tom Lehman's Ryder Cup picks. And Lehman had good reason to pick four-time PGA TOUR winner: four top-5 finishes in his last 10 starts. Throw in the fact that Cink won the title here in 2004 - holding off Tiger in the process - and Cink may very well find himself challenging the King of Firestone once again.
 
Brett Wetterich
Could be inspired by talk in the media proclaiming him to be the weak link on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Having quite a rollercoaster year as seen by a four tournament stretch earlier this spring: missed the cut at the Wachovia Championship; won first career PGA TOUR title at the EDS Byron Nelson Championship; missed cut at Bank of America Colonial; runner-up finish at The Memorial Tournament.
 
Luke Donald
Perhaps a bit overwhelmed in his final round pairing with Tiger at Medinah, Donald had shown beautiful form to his game through the first three rounds. Tenth on the PGA TOUR's money list, Donald has six top-10s for the season including his win at the Honda Classic in March. Finished sixth here last year.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - WGC - Bridgestone Invitational