WGC-Bridgestone 2014: The Top Storylines to Watch at Firestone

Mike DudurichContributor IJuly 29, 2014

WGC-Bridgestone 2014: The Top Storylines to Watch at Firestone

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    Firestone Country Club's 18th hole.
    Firestone Country Club's 18th hole.PHIL LONG/Associated Press

    Professional golf has been played in Akron, Ohio, for 60 years, and it returns to Firestone Country Club this week for the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.

    It's always a highlight on the PGA Tour and figures to be so again this weekend.

    The top 50 players in the world will play the South Course, and there are some interesting storylines as the first round approaches.

    Can Tiger Woods get his game together to get a top-five finish?

    Can Sergio Garcia maintain the momentum he gained at the British Open?

    Check out the list of the top storylines of this week.

Will Woods' Firestone Magic Continue?

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    Tiger Woods will need good things to happen for him this week.
    Tiger Woods will need good things to happen for him this week.Jon Super/Associated Press

    The eyes of the world will be watching Tiger Woods this week to see if he can put together the first of two top-five performances he'll most likely need to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs.

    The man has owned Firestone Country Club, having won eight times there. Winning the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational would certainly help him in his quest to make the playoffs.

    It's no secret Woods has played badly the few times he's teed it up this year, and he's gained just 45 points from those starts. He is 331 points behind the 125th position in the standings, which is where Woods needs to get in order to qualify for the playoffs.

    Only three weeks remain in the points race, and Woods is scheduled to play just two of those weeksthis week and the PGA Championship next week.

    If he doesn't make the playoffs, he'll miss four weeks of competition. That won't help his chances of impressing Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson, who is considering making Woods a captain's choice.

Best Field of the Year?

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    Big crowds surround the first tee at Firestone Country Club's South Course.
    Big crowds surround the first tee at Firestone Country Club's South Course.Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

    Anybody who is anybody in the Top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking is in Akron, Ohio, this week.

    As a matter of fact, all of the Top 50 players in the game will be in the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. That's a rarity in professional golf, but barring a withdrawal, they'll all be teeing it up at Firestone Country Club's South Course.

    The last time it happened was in the 2012 PGA Championship.

    Twenty-two countries will be represented, with the U.S. having the most, 32.

    With the best 50 players in the world competing, the assumption could be made that this could be one of the best events of the year.

What's Next for Rory?

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    It's all good for Rory McIlroy these days.
    It's all good for Rory McIlroy these days.Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Unlike Bubba Watson, who has followed up his two Masters victories with absolutely nothing, Rory McIlroy backed his impressive victory at Congressional Country Club in 2012 with a convincing win in the PGA Championship at Kiawah.

    And chances are good the kid from Northern Ireland has the same sort of thing in mind this year, having gone wire-to-wire in winning the British Open.

    A World Golf Championship event is hardly a warm-up for anything, but it will serve that purpose for McIlroy this week as he prepares for next week's PGA Championship. If McIlroy happens to win in Akron, it would be his first WGC triumph.

    He's not exactly had great success at Firestone, however. He was T68 in his first time there in 2009 and T27 last year. In between he was pretty good, T9, T6 and T5.

Can Sergio Garcia Maintain Momentum?

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    Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia battled throughout the final round of the British Open.
    Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia battled throughout the final round of the British Open.USA TODAY Sports

    Sergio Garcia hasn't finished inside the top 20 at Firestone Country Club since 2005.

    But Garcia comes to Akron this week off a pair of T2s, one at the Travelers Championship and the other at the British Open.

    The Spaniard leads the PGA Tour in scoring average (68.988) and is fourth in greens in regulation (69.59 percent), obviously evidence of the fact that he's playing well.

    Garcia, who has long chased the ghost of Tiger Woods, finds himself in the same sort of position as Woods this week, chasing a major title. The difference is Woods has 14, and Garcia has none.

    Garcia is obviously in good form, and this appears to be his best chance in a long time to take a serious shot at a major.

Will Jason Dufner Come Alive at Firestone?

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    Jason Dufner needs a kick-start, even this late in the season.
    Jason Dufner needs a kick-start, even this late in the season.Jon Super/Associated Press

    It's hard to imagine that Jason Dufner won the PGA Championships a year ago.

    Since then, much of his 2014 season has been spent "Dufner-ing." 

    He's had four top-10s this year, but he has shown little since getting into a playoff with Adam Scott in May (and losing). He's had two missed cuts and a T51 since then.

    But he does seem to have figured out something the last two years at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. He's posted a T4 and seventh-place finish in the last two years.

    Might Firestone Country Club be the impetus to a big finish to 2014? Dufner could use a spark at the PGA Championship and FedEx Cup playoffs, and Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson needs to have Dufner show some signs of life.