AKRON, Ohio – Over on Friday, put into snooze mode Saturday, and pushed to 18 holes Sunday only to meet contractual and professional standards, the 2013 Bridgestone Invitational was officially entered into the record books at the appointed hour.
That this year’s World Golf Championship stop in Rubber City ended the way it did in 1999 and 2000 and 2001 and 2005 and 2006 and 2007 and 2009 is hardly surprising. Tiger Woods, after all, not only owns this place (it’s eight wins in 14 starts here), owns these WGCs (18 wins; no one else has more than three), and owns the PGA Tour once again (five wins in 11 tournaments), but he was in a position where he is most effective.
Thus can the career slate be updated: Woods at 79 PGA Tour wins is just three shy of Sam Snead’s mark.
Having gritted his teeth over two bogeys during a three-hole stretch coming home Saturday, Woods seemed determined to change those fortunes in Round 3 – and he did, too, with nine consecutive pars on his way out. But any thoughts of pulling a Nick Faldo – you know, 18 pars to win – were gone when Woods birdied the par-4 10th. He gave that back with a bogey at the par-4 14th, then closed out his casual stroll with four straight pars to shoot level-par 70, finish at 15-under 265, and win by seven over Keegan Bradley (67) and Henrik Stenson (70).
It was vintage Woods, the form Bradley used to idolize when he was playing junior golf or against collegians while at St. John’s. Does he like that sort of Woods’ performance?
Bradley smiled, then shook his head.
“When I was younger, I did, yeah.”
Here are 5 Things to Know on a day when a torrid tournament within a tournament left Bradley and Stenson tied for second:
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1. MAJOR IMPLICATIONS: He becomes the favorite for any golf tournament just by getting out of bed. If he’s on top of his game, he’s an overwhelming favorite. But now that Woods has steamrolled the field and won his eighth Bridgestone Invitational the week before the PGA Championship? You can almost hear the Vegas oddsmakers re-assessing the line furiously – and not in the bettor’s favor.
But as always with Woods, there is history, my friends, and it doesn’t translate positively in his favor for next week’s PGA Championship at Oak Hill CC in Rochester, N.Y.
Woods has won 20 times in his final tune-up before a major championship, a historical perspective that goes back to 1997 when he won the Western Open before the Open Championship. Woods did not win that year at Royal Troon, which sort of established a trend you might not expect. Only four times in 19 tries has he followed a tune-up win with a victory in a major.
The successes: In 2000, he won the Memorial, then the U.S. Open; in 2001, he won The Players, then the Masters; in 2006, he won the Buick Open, then the PGA; in 2007, he won the Bridgestone, then the PGA.
Take note, however. Though he doesn’t particularly like to play the week before a major, he sure knows how to do it. In 2007, Woods played and won this Bridgestone Invitational, then won the PGA the next week, and in 2000 he played the Buick Open (T-11), then won the PGA the next week.
Then there’s this. Just a few weeks ago, Phil Mickelson won the Scottish Open, then went down the road to Muirfield and won the Open Championship the very next week.
Perhaps it’s an omen in Woods’ favor.
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2. LEFTY WASN’T RIGHT: Phil Mickelson tried to ride the momentum of his Open Championship. Instead, he concedes he might have gotten worn down a bit.
“I would think so,” he said, when asked if fatigue played a part in his T-21 finish that featured just one round under par, a Saturday 67. “I didn’t have a chance to prepare properly. I was doing some other ancillary stuff.”
Still, Mickelson quickly turned upbeat and talked of his plans for the upcoming PGA Championship. He said he’ll take Monday off, then play an 18-hole practice round Tuesday. Wednesday? “It will depend on how I feel at the time,” he said.
Mickelson has toured Oak Hill CC a few times and thinks he has a game plan, but much will depend on the weather. If it’s warm, he might add a 64-degree wedge and not carry a driver. If it’s not warm, he’ll add the driver and discard the 64-degree wedge.
“I don’t think (the driver or the 64-degree wedge) is necessary,” Mickelson said. “But I don’t think I’ll just play with 13 (clubs), either.”
As for his major ritual, a Tuesday “game” that is built around a competitive mood, Mickelson is set to play with Rickie Fowler against a pair of youngsters, Peter Uihlein and Brooks Koepka. At the Open Championship, Mickelson and Fowler beat Dustin Johnson and Koepka, so he was asked about inviting the youngster from Florida State right back into the hunt.
With a wide smile, Mickelson said sure.
“He paid quick, so he’s welcomed back,” said Lefty.
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3. STRONG WORDS: The next time the PGA Tour settles in Ohio, it will be for the biennial Presidents Cup on Oct. 1-3. It’s a competition that dates back to 1994 but includes just one victory for the International Team, so you can understand why Adam Scott – arguably the International Team’s top player – feels it’s “crucial” and “vital” that his team comes out on top.
Thus are players disappointed that requests from Nick Price, the International captain, were turned down by the PGA Tour. Price had suggested changing the format to look more like the Ryder Cup, 28 total points, not 34, which would mean the captain would have fewer matches and be able to sit players.
“I don’t think there’s a team sport in the world that doesn’t have a bench,” Scott said. “If you hide players, you hide players.”
Scott, who has been on each of the last five International teams, seemed genuinely disappointed that Commissioner Tim Finchem turned Price down. Scott said if the International Team didn’t win this year at Muirfield Village, the Presidents Cup would “lose its relevance, to me,” that it would slip perilously close to being “an exhibition.”
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4. FAST STARTER, STRONG FINISHER: Unfortunately for Webb Simpson, he wasn’t as effective in the middle. Playing in this WGC for the first time, Simpson assumed the first-round lead with an opening 64 that he credited to an experienced caddie, Paul Tesori, who has been here often.
Simpson made eight birdies Thursday, but he managed just three during his middle 36 holes as rounds of 75-75 knocked him out of contention.
But there’s always something to play for, so Simpson might just ride the momentum of Sunday’s finale – an eagle, five birdies and a stellar 66 – into the PGA.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Playing for the sixth straight year at Firestone, Martin Kaymer had his best finish and first top 10, a T-9. . . . For the week, all 12 eagles were made at the second hole. That par 5 ranked easiest, with a field average of 4.555. . . . There were more birdies and eagles made in Round 4 at the second (44) than there were at the par-4 fourth (18) and par-4 ninth (18) for the tournament, combined. . . . No. 9 ranked toughest for the tournament, at 4.308, while No. 4 was second, at 4.267. . . . For the week, Aussie Daniel Popovic hit just 28 of 72 greens, a key reason why he finished last of the 73 competitors, 49 strokes behind Woods.