Bridgestone Invitational 2013: Top Finishers' Stock Watch for PGA Championship

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Bridgestone Invitational 2013: Top Finishers' Stock Watch for PGA Championship
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Gauging the stock of the top finishers at the 2013 Bridgestone Invitational entering the final major of the season may seem rather odd, because it would be easy to say all of them are trendy picks at the PGA Championship.

Instead of looking at their strong results at Firestone as a whole, though, it's worth examining every facet of their respective games.

Tiger Woods ran away from the field with a scintillating 61 in the second round and wound up winning by seven. Front-running for the world No. 1 has never been the problem. Rather, it has been overcoming 54-hole deficits at majors to win—something he's never done in his legendary career.

Only two of the eight players in the final four pairings broke par on Sunday.

Woods can be partially excused for his conservative strategy, but even his game showed signs of a perhaps inevitable letdown over the final 36 holes.

Here is a breakdown of the top finishers in Akron and how their prospects are looking ahead of Oak Hill.

Note: Statistics and information, are courtesy of PGATour.com.

 

Tiger Woods

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The world No. 1 mentioned after tying his personal best score with 61 that he felt he had that number in him for a while and just hadn't put it all together.

To be fair, truly executing every facet of one's golf game comes very rarely, even for a player of Woods' caliber.

In Round 3, his irons were especially off when he hit only nine out of 18 greens in regulation. Due to his fantastic short game, he was able to recover more often than not and salvage a round of 68.

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The final round saw Woods strike it much better on his approach shots, consequently netting more looks at birdies. But after a phenomenal week on the greens, Woods took an uncharacteristic 36 putts on the last 18.

It's easy to write that off as a lapse in focus due to the lead he had and the lack of necessity to press for birdies given the amount of cushion he had on the rest of the field. Still, his average proximity to the pin in the final round was 21'4"—well within range to make more than one birdie.

That is, until you realize that the one facet of Woods' game that has prevented him from winning a major since the 2008 U.S. Open above all else is his flatstick. Back in his heyday, he couldn't miss when he absolutely had to make a putt.

While that uncanny ability has surfaced at times in his five PGA Tour wins in 2013, the level of performance has noticeably declined at majors—particularly on Sundays at The Masters and British Open this year.

Woods should still be considered the prohibitive favorite as he always is, but he must get back to rolling the rock well. When he recently scouted the venue, he said the greens were "spotty."

Whether it takes the maintenance crew adjusting to clean up the surfaces or Woods adjusting to how they play, he must make the proper tweaks to thrive at Oak Hill, where he tied for 39th in 2003.

Until he proves capable of holing more putts at majors, his stock shouldn't be dinged. He'll still remain the inevitable favorite, but there are plenty of doubts as to whether Woods will win.

That was never the case when Woods was at the true peak of his powers.

 

Keegan Bradley

Video Credit: PGA Championship

The 2011 PGA Championship winner defended the Wanamaker Trophy admirably last year with a tie for third, and defensed his title at the Bridgestone Invitational by tying for second.

In both instances, the dominance of McIlroy at Kiawah Island and the historic eighth win for Woods at Firestone overshadowed the stellar play of the young American star.

Bradley won't be under the radar at Oak Hill by any stretch, especially with how he closed out his tournament in Akron with a three-under 67—just one shot off the round of the day.

The more difficult holes at Oak Hill are longer, which play into Bradley's hands due to his booming length off the tee.

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

He's third in total driving and third in all-around ranking on the PGA Tour, so it's hard to poke many holes in his game at the moment.

His only prior two efforts at the PGA have resulted in a win and a top-three finish. Given how strong he was in the final round of the Bridgestone Invitational, he will be among the golfers generating the most buzz in Pittsford, New York.

 

 

Henrik Stenson

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Even when Woods isn't putting his very best, he's still better than most. Bradley continues to show that he can pour them in when they matter, too.

The same can't be said for Stenson, who is streaky with the flat iron at best. Having said that, he's one of the hottest golfers on the planet right now and has ascended all the way to No. 11 in the world rankings.

Stenson smashes the ball off the tee and hits it incredibly straight for a player with his power. That frequently sets him up with approaches in which he has shorter clubs in his hand than most of his playing competitors.

As a result, the Swede ranks second in greens in regulation to go with being sixth in driving accuracy.

An unfortunate but familiar development began to unfold in his final round in Akron, though—the putter failed him again. He took 1.929 putts per green in regulation and finished the week 30th in strokes gained putting. For the season, Stenson is 124th in the total putting statistic.

Making par at the difficult Oak Hill will be the objective more often than not, and as long as Stenson remains solid from tee to green, he should be in the thick of contention.

However, to take the next step in his career and add a major to his resume, he must discover better feel on the greens.

Andrew Redington/Getty Images

After a tie for third at the Scottish Open, a runner-up finish at the Open Championship and a joint second finish with Bradley at Firestone, it's either time for Stenson to grab a trophy or have another letdown.

I don't think he'll lead the field in greens in regulation yet again as he did at the British Open, and that will cost him a legitimate chance at the Wanamaker Trophy.

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