Tiger Train Rolls into Firestone

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 21, 2006, 4:00 pm
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
  • Getty Images

    Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

    By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 12:25 am

    ROGERS, Ark. - Minjee Lee wasn't all that concerned when she missed her first cut of the year this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

    The ninth-ranked Australian has certainly looked at ease and back in form at Pinnacle Country Club in her first event since then.

    Lee and Japan's Nasa Hataoka each shot 6-under 65 on Saturday to share the second-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship 13-under 129. Lee is chasing her fifth victory since turning pro three years ago. It's also an opportunity to put any lingering frustration over that missed cut two weeks ago behind her for good.

    ''I didn't particularly hit it bad, even though I missed the cut at ShopRite, I just didn't really hole any putts,'' Lee said. ''I'd been hitting it pretty solid going into that tournament and even into this tournament, too. Just to see a couple putts roll in has been nice.''

    The 22-year-old Lee needed only 24 putts during her opening 64 on Friday, helping her to match the low round of her career. Despite needing 28 putts Saturday, she still briefly took the outright lead after reaching as low as 14 under after a birdie on the par-5 seventh.


    Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship


    Lee missed the green on the par-4 ninth soon thereafter to lead to her only bogey of the day and a tie with the 19-year-old Hataoka, who is in pursuit of her first career win.

    Hataoka birdied six of eight holes midway through her bogey-free round on Saturday. It was yet another stellar performance from the Japanese teenager, who has finished in the top 10 in four of her last five tournaments and will be a part of Sunday's final pairing.

    ''I try to make birdies and try to be under par, that's really the key for me to get a top ten,'' Hataoka said. ''Golf is just trying to be in the top 10 every single week, so that's the key.''

    Third-ranked Lexi Thompson matched the low round of the day with a 64 to get to 11 under. She hit 17 of 18 fairways and shot a 5-under 30 on her opening nine, The American is in search of her first win since September in the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

    Ariya Jutanugarn and Celine Boutier were 10 under.

    First-round leader Gaby Lopez followed her opening 63 with a 75 to drop to 4 under. Fellow former Arkansas star Stacy Lewis also was 4 under after a 72.

    Getty Images

    Henley will try to put heat on Casey in final round

    By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:55 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – While it will be a tall task for anyone to catch Paul Casey at the Travelers Championship, the man who will start the round most within reach of the Englishman is Russell Henley.

    Henley was in the penultimate group at TPC River Highlands on Saturday, but he’ll now anchor things during the final round as he looks to overcome a four-shot deficit behind Casey. After a 3-under 67, Henley sits at 12 under through 54 holes and one shot clear of the three players tied for third.

    Henley closed his third round with a run of five straight pars, then became the beneficiary of a pair of late bogeys from Brian Harman that left Henley alone in second place.


    Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


    “Could have made a couple more putts, but to end with two up-and-downs like that was nice,” Henley said. “I felt a little bit weird over the shots coming in, put me in some bad spots. But it was nice to have the short game to back me up.”

    Henley has won three times on Tour, most recently at the 2017 Houston Open, and he cracked the top 25 at both the Masters and U.S. Open. But with Casey riding a wave of confidence and coming off an 8-under 62 that marked the best round of the week, he knows he’ll have his work cut out for him in order to nab trophy No. 4.

    “I think I can shoot a low number on this course. You’ve got to make the putts,” Henley said. “I’m definitely hitting it well enough, and if I can get a couple putts to fall, that would be good. But I can’t control what he’s doing. I can just try to keep playing solid.”

    Getty Images

    Back from back injury, Casey eyeing another win

    By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:36 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Given his four-shot cushion at the Travelers Championship and his recent victory at the Valspar Championship, it’s easy to forget that Paul Casey hit the disabled list in between.

    Casey had to withdraw from The Players Championship because of a bad back, becoming the only player in the top 50 in the world rankings to miss the PGA Tour’s flagship event. He flew back to England to get treatment, and Casey admitted that his T-20 finish at last month’s BMW PGA Championship came while he was still on the mend.

    “I wasn’t 100 percent fit with the back injury, which was L-4, L-5, S-1 (vertebrae) all out of place,” Casey said. “Big inflammation, nerve pain down the leg and up the back. I didn’t know what was going on.”


    Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


    Thanks in large part to a combination of MRIs, back adjustments and anti-inflammatories, Casey finally turned the corner. His T-16 finish at last week’s U.S. Open was the first event for which he felt fully healthy since before the Players, and he’s on the cusp of a second title since March after successfully battling through the injury.

    “We thought we were fixing it, but we weren’t. We were kind of hitting the effects rather than the cause,” Casey said. “Eventually we figured out the cause, which was structural.”

    Casey started the third round at TPC River Highlands two shots off the lead, but he’s now four clear of Russell Henley after firing an 8-under 62 that marked the low round of the week.

    Getty Images

    Bubba thinks he'll need a Sunday 60 to scare Casey

    By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:15 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Perhaps moreso than at most PGA Tour venues, a low score is never really out of reach at TPC River Highlands. Positioned as a welcome change of pace after the U.S. Open, the Travelers Championship offers a lush layout that often pushes the balance much closer to reward than risk.

    This is where Jim Furyk shot a 58 on the par-70 layout two years ago – and he didn’t even win that week. So even though Paul Casey enters the final round with a commanding four-shot lead, there’s still plenty of hope for the chase pack that something special could be in store.

    Count Bubba Watson among the group who still believe the title is up for grabs – even if it might require a Herculean effort, even by his standards.


    Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

    Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


    Watson has won the Travelers twice, including in a 2015 playoff over Casey. But starting the final round in a large tie for sixth at 10 under, six shots behind Casey, he estimates that he’ll need to flirt with golf’s magic number to give the Englishman something to worry about.

    “My 7 under yesterday, I need to do better than that. I’m going to have to get to like 10 [under],” Watson said. “The only beauty is, getting out in front, you have a chance to put a number up and maybe scare them. But to scare them, you’re going to have to shoot 10 under at worst, where I’m at anyway.”

    Watson started the third round three shots off the lead, and he made an early move with birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 en route to an outward 32. The southpaw couldn’t sustain that momentum, as bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 turned a potential 65 into a relatively disappointing 67.

    “Bad decision on the par-3, and then a very tough tee shot for me on 17, and it just creeped into the bunker,” Watson said. “Just, that’s golf. You have mistakes every once in a while.”