Big hitters and small hitters share Firestone stage


WGC-Bridgestone - 125wAKRON, Ohio ' They will tell you that Firestone, and next weeks Hazeltine National, can only be scaled by the strongest of men.
That winning Glorys last Two-step demands 320-yard carries, all others need not apply. That only the games bombers have a betting chance at this weeks WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the bookend PGA Championship.
Its all a shame, of course.
Tiger Woods at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational
Tiger Woods is eyeing his seventh win at Firestone. (Getty Images)
Sure, Padraig Harrington sluffed his way out of a season-long slide that has been tough on Irish eyes everywhere with an opening-round 64 and a Day 1 driving average of 326 healthy yards. And that hard-swinging Tiger Woods fellow is lurking just four shots back. At 7,400 humid yards, Firestones South Course may have the Tours only legitimate three-shot par 5, the 667-yard 16th hole, and the Midwest monster rewards power ' end of list.
But then Tim Clark and a smiling mite named Prayad Marksaeng would beg to differ. Neither player would ever be plucked from a PGA Tour lineup for performance-enhancing drug testing. Nor would either crack the lineup of your office pick-up squad.
And yet, despite all that real estate, there they were after the first lap at the Firestone oval, two shots off Harringtons pace, tied for second place alongside Scott Verplank, another player on the back end of the Tours driving curve, and standing shoulder to, well, ear with the games bombing elite.
Marksaeng tips the scales at 5 foot 4, while Clark is a towering 5 foot 7 and both ranked near the bottom of the 79-player field in driving distance (290 yards for Clark and 309 for Marksaeng).
Or, to put things into perspective, our diminutive heroes are 12 shots clear of Adam Scott who is about a time zone longer off the tee. Its a good things from small packages lesson.
Its a lesson thats taken Clark some time to learn. Truth is women may dig the long ball, or so the old saw goes, but there is something to be said for life from the middle of the fairway and a steady putter.
I used to cry about being here and said I should go to Reno (this weeks opposite-field event) and play, said Clark of Firestone, who figures Hazeltine will play to about 74,000 yards, or so everyone says. I come in here now with a different attitude. I try to enjoy myself and give it a good effort rather than hang your head.
Positive stuff, he must have solicited the psychological advice of Harrington, the picture of positive thought who has been mired in what he says is largely a self-inflicted slump.
The Irishman hit nearly 80 percent of his greens in regulation to post his best round in a year that XM Radios John Maginnes observed, he has worn all over his shirt.
The first six months of the year had a purpose, Harrington said. I was working on some things. Now I can play.
On Thursday the new swing simply worked, whereas Woods had to work a little harder for his 2-under-par card, saying his game came in spurts, with a mid-round birdie flourish that pushed him into red figures and a pair of gritty pars to close his day.
Woods, the biggest of men, is essentially an adopted son of the Cuyahoga, as much an Ohio fixture with his six Bridgestone titles as that signature water tower or Cleveland Indians fire sales.
After nine trips to Firestone, few know the leafy turns and twists of the South Course better than Woods, and even he was taken by how big the Akron ballpark played on Thursday: I havent seen this golf course play this long in a while, he said.
All of which makes that Clark - Marksaeng cameo that much more impressive, and it could have been better.
The mighty Thai got to 6 under before a messy bogey-bogey finish and Clark three-putted the inward loops par 3s (Nos. 12 and 15) from 12 and 20 feet, respectively.
The duos play, however, was worth noting as the Tour eases into the bombers portion of the schedule.
Not that its easy for the likes of Clark and Marksaeng to play long ball with what is, at least in Tour terms, squeeze bunt games. Clark switched out his 4-iron for a new 22-degree hybrid for Firestone and Hazeltine National, site of next weeks PGA, and Marksaeng wore out his long irons in his fourth WGC start.
But they proved, at least for a single sunny day, that there is room for the plodders among the pounders. Corey Pavin would be proud.
The ultimate test still awaits, three more loops at Firestone and Hazeltine, where three par 5s measuring over 600 yards await. But if Clark is concerned with the lengthy road ahead he wasnt letting on.
I dont feel like length is a huge advantage on this golf course, said Clark, who ranks 174th on Tour in driving distance but finds the fairway better than all but three of his Tour stable mates. On some holes youre actually driving into a down slope and I get a bit more run. Some guys are flying the slopes and were kind of ending up in similar positions.
After 18 holes, some of the circuits longest would gladly switch positions with Clark and Marksaeng ' the mighty among mice and men.
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - 2009 WGC - Bridgestone Invitational
  • Golf Channel Airtimes