The European Tour’s finest head back across the pond this week for the WGC – Bridgestone Invitational, with 35 Members making the trip to the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.
Of the top 50 ranked players in the Official World Golf Ranking, only Number 12 Louis Oosthuizen will be missing from the field as the South African continues to battle the neck problem that forced him to retire from The 142nd Open Championship last week.
With the season’s final Major – the US PGA Championship – taking place the following week, the world’s best will be looking to follow the example of Open Champion Phil Mickelson, who prepared perfectly for his magical performance at Muirfield by winning the previous week’s Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.
Mickelson will, along with US Open Champion Justin Rose and Masters Tournament winner Adam Scott (champion here in 2011), be among the favourites to win this week but, given his dominance of the event, seven-time champion Tiger Woods will be the pre-tournament favourite once again at Firestone.
The man Mickelson overhauled at the top of that Open Championship leaderboard at Muirfield – Lee Westwood – will arrive in Akron in the most positive frame of mind, thanks, in the main to his decision to enlist the help of ‘mind coach’ Ross Mackenzie to help him through golf’s most pressurised environs.
The Englishman may have just missed out on his 62nd attempt at winning a Major Championship in Scotland, but he left Muirfield full of optimism thanks to the recent changes to his back room team that now includes Mackenzie, his new putting adviser, Ian Baker-Finch, and his new swing coach, Sean Foley.
“The way I’m looking at it is that I basically had 45 minutes on a practice green with Ian, a few hours on the range with Sean, one session with Ross – and I still managed to lead the Open by two after 54 holes,” said Westwood.
“Normally changing stuff like that sets you back a bit, but I implemented it all, to a point, within a week. I’m positive there’ll be plenty of improvement to come in all three aspects. And I just hope it happens as quickly as it has so far.”
Another man looking to draw on some positive vibes this week will be Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy.
The reigning US PGA Champion has endured a tough year so far in 2013, but he will be able to draw upon his experience at Firestone 12 months ago as he seeks to play his way into form.
McIlroy arrived here last year with his game in a similar state. Out of form and under some harsh criticism, McIlroy rediscovered his touch in Ohio to finish the week in a tie for fifth place behind Keegan Bradley before going on to dominate the final Major of the year and produce a stunning eight-shot victory at Kiawah Island.