Aug
1
2012
Balls in the Air: WGC-Bridgestone Invitational
By Stephanie Wei under Balls in the Air

Welcome (back) to Balls in the Air, where I size up my Fantasy Golf picks of the week, featuring guys to watch (or not), and interesting story lines and tidbits from behind the scenes. Disclaimer: I’m just as full of crap as the next guy, maybe slightly less than others, but take my ramblings for what their worth. Ramblings.

Good game, bro

Pardon me, but I’m having some trouble keeping my eyes open — chalk it up to old age or maybe I haven’t recovered from the British Open jetlag!

I had such great plans for all the prolific posts I was going to pump out today, but that didn’t happen. Good news is I have a lot on tap. I had an interesting chat with Ernie Els’ putting coach Dr. Sherylle Calder — her system and theory make a lot of sense from what I was able to gather and I was very intrigued. I liked her vibe. Stay tuned in the next few days…

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Whoa, hello there, Nathan Adrian…of Team USA who captured the gold medal in the 100 free (8 hours ago) today. #callme

Sorry about that, I have the Olympics on in the background. I can’t help let some things catch my eye, even though it’s tape-delayed. I wasn’t on Twitter much today, so I actually don’t know what happened already!

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Okay, back to golf. Well, Firestone was buzzing on Wednesday now that all the players have arrived. One caddie said that yesterday (Tuesday) was so quiet that it rivaled some Mondays at a regular tour event. I believe it.

The range was filled with players cramming and others getting in a last-minute practice round just to refresh their memories or become acclimated with the conditions, which seem good as always. The rough is super thick, as usual, so hitting fairways off the tee will be premium. Positioning is also key to give yourself the best angle into the greens. Otherwise, IT’S RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU. It’s a great course, but I find the layout kinda boring. I mean, there’s a par-4 up the hill and then another one coming back the other direction that might be a slight dogleg…maybe I’ve been brainwashed by Geoff Shackelford. Don’t get me wrong, it’s always one of the best tour stops (other than Akron, no offense).

It’s a different vibe so far compared to last year. Not as much buzz IMHO. Scribes are trying to prepare for PGA Championship previews, while they’ve just recovered from their British Open hangovers. The media center is kinda empty, too, but that’s because some of the usual suspects are covering the Olympics. Basically, some sporting event taking place in London is taking the spotlight away from golf. Shocking!

C’mon, let’s get excited! The world’s best golfers (though this field doesn’t feel quite as deep as last year’s) are competing for $8.5 million and since it’s a WGC event, there’s no cut, so these guys are guaranteed to walk away with a healthy check regardless. Sounds like a good deal to me — just one of the many rewards when you’re ranked in the top 50 or you’ve won a tourney on the PGA Tour and/or European Tour in the past year, among the other ways to qualify.

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Firestone is a nice track, but they’ve held the WGC here for years (and it’s hosted a tour event since..forever), so most players know it well and can play it with their eyes closed, like Tiger, a seven-time champ. He can tie Stevie Williams for most victories at Firestone with a W this week, but Stevie Adam Scott is definitely a favorite going into the week with how well he’s been striking the ball. It sounds like he’s not letting the late meltdown at the Open hinder him — he’s dealt with it and moved on (I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulled a Rory McIlroy a la 2011 Masters/US Open). After all, it’s just golf when you put it in perspective…

There were some interesting pressers today. I’ll post the highlights from Tiger’s early tomorrow morning, but I’m sure you can already predict how it went. He did share some of his thoughts on The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, where he played a practice round on Tuesday to prep for GLORY’S LAST SHOT, next week’s PGA Championship.

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I strolled down the range, found most of the five or six guys I wanted to thank for helping me out at The Open (some knew it was my first time doing on-camera stuff — or at least recognized I was in a different role than usual — and I just truly appreciated their time and making things a bit easier), and then chatted with a few players to try and get their impressions of Kiawah, if they’d played it and if they hadn’t, what they’d heard about the course. You know, the word in the locker room, so to speak.

What I’ve gathered is that it’s hard. No shit. Johnson Wagner said it’s basically a links course, but you can’t play the ball on the ground and roll it up onto the greens (like you do in real links golf) because they’re raised and guarded by trouble with lots of collection areas. That makes things tricky since you obviously have no choice but to land the ball on the green and it might be hard to hold the ball, not to mention it doesn’t sound like there’s any room for error.

It’s also usually really windy (duh) and it doesn’t blow in a constant direction, per se. It changes up and swirls, so that’s tricky. And it’s long, according to Wags, who isn’t one of the longer hitters, but I’ve heard that from other guys, too. Wags compared The Ocean Course to another Pete Dye masterpiece, TPC Sawgrass — the player who is playing the best that week will win.

Depending on the conditions and setup, the course is so difficult that it might be the first time the winning score at a PGA Championship is over-par!

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Oh, my Fantasy Golf picks. I don’t think much explanation is needed. Overall, I went with solid ballstrikers. Like I said, DON’T HIT IT IN THE ROUGH. On second thought, maybe I should switch someone out and add Francesco Molinari, who is an excellent driver of the ball. Problem is, he’s not exactly the…err…best putter in the world. (Reminder: Scottish Open — missed two short putts in last few holes to gag away the tourney). If I recall correctly, the greens can be pretty tricky — and slick — here…well, it’s all about positioning.

In Tiger’s practice round he wasn’t driving the ball well, but I’m sure he worked it out on the range with Sean Foley afterward. (And as we know, p-rounds aren’t always the best indicators. In fact, I used to like playing poorly in them because I’d think of it as saving my best shots for the actual tournament.)

 

I might make a few tweaks, but I might not since I’m about to pass out on my keyboard. One last thing: who you got? And what have you heard about The Ocean Course at Kiawah? Or feel free to discuss other pertinent topics.

(Getty Images/Andrew Redington)