By Nick Totten, europeantour.com
at Firestone Country Club
Known across the globe as a hot bed of molten rubber and steaming oatmeal – as home to tyre manufacturers and the well-known breakfast cereal alike – Akron, Ohio will once again play host to the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational this week.
With a 76 man field set to take to Firestone Country Club’s South Course from Thursday, and 72-holes guaranteed for all, the third World Golf Championship of the year will once again act as the final piece in the majority of the contestant’s preparatory puzzle, ahead of the season’s final Major.
If the US PGA Championship is Glory’s Last Shot, then these four rounds in Ohio are each player’s final opportunity to peak their efforts, with no player having left Akron with more momentum over the years than one Tiger Woods.
The 14-time Major Champion has dominated the 7,400 yard par 70 layout since the first event in 1999, claiming more than half of the titles available to him over the last decade and a half.
His triumph 12 months ago was his eighth at this event, and was indicative of his form over the years, thanks to a seven shot triumph over defending champion, and compatriot, Keegan Bradley.
As for the European contingent, the only man to taste victory in Ohio is Darren Clarke, who lifted the impressive Gary Player trophy aloft in 2003. That was his second WGC victory in the space of three years, thanks to a four shot win over Jonathan Kaye, just two seasons after he held off the title advances of Woods in the final of the Accenture Match Play Championship.
That was one of the few of these titles to have slipped through the American’s grasp, and his dominance in the game has rarely been more evident than in Akron, where he has won by four strokes or more on four occasions.
The most impressive of these came in 2000 when he finished a mighty 11 shots ahead of his nearest challenger Justin Leonard.
One of the tournament, and indeed the sport’s, most iconic images was indeed that of the former World Number One knocking the 18th flag out in pitch darkness during that victory at the turn of the century, with the only light available to those watching courtesy of the flicker from expectant flashbulbs by the green.
Woods has had his close calls though, winning by the narrowest of margins in both 1999 and 2005, and even closer still in 2001 and 2006 when he was forced into extra holes.
The first of those play-off wins came against compatriot Jim Furyk, who eventually fell to Woods’ on the seventh extra hole, after a series of pars was broken by a costly bogey. The only other time the eight time Champion required extra holes, he vanquished fellow Bridgestone winner Stewart Cink, who won himself in 2004.
Other players have also tasted success in Ohio though, their moments just a little fewer, and a little farther between than Woods.
The aforementioned Bradley was the most recent to topple the Tiger in 2012, while a year prior to that, the current World Number One Adam Scott picked up his first, and so far, only World Golf Championship title at Firestone. Hunter Mahan also triumphed in 2010.
Vijay Singh was the filling in a Woods sandwich in 2008, while the man rounding out the roll of honour, Craig Parry – or Popeye, to his friends – took the title in 2003. That year the tournament was held at Sahalee Country Club near Seattle, which remains the only time this Championship has not been held at Firestone Country Club.