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2017 WGC Bridgestone Invitational: 10 players to watch, picks to win

By
Tom LaMarre, The Sports Xchange

1. Jordan Spieth, United States

American Jordan Spieth celebrates a victory over American Matt Kuchar at the 146th Open Championship. File photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI
Coming off a week in which he celebrated his 24th birthday after a dramatic victory in the 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, it will be difficult for Spieth not to be looking ahead to next week. That's when he will make his first bid to become the sixth player in history to complete the modern career Grand Slam, which will happen if he wins the PGA Championship. Spieth has won his last two starts and has three victories this season, giving him 11 in his career on the PGA Tour, but surprisingly he's never captured one of the World Golf Championships. His best result was a tie for third last year in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, finishing three strokes behind winner Dustin Johnson, after placing 10th a year earlier at Firestone. Spieth, who has eight results in the top 10 this season, including six in the top three, leads the FedExCup point standings and is No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

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2. Dustin Johnson, United States

American Dustin Johnson hits out of the rough on the fourth hole on Day two at the 146th Open Championship. File photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI
DJ, who hasn't been the same since sustaining a back injury the day before the Masters in April, finally seemed to be getting his game back in order last week when he tied for eighth in his title defense in the RBC Canadian Open. He will be defending another crown this week in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, and in fact has won three of the last four World Golf Championships for a total of five -- second to Tiger Woods' incredible total of 18 titles. Last year, Johnson played the weekend on the South Course at Firestone in 66-66 to win by one stroke over Scott Piercy. DJ, playing for the first time since winning the U.S. Open at Oakmont, holed a 15-foot birdie putt at No. 13th, added an eight-footer for another birdie on the next hole and took the lead for good with a 15-foot birdie putt at No. 17. Earlier this year, he won the WGC-Mexico Championship and the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

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3. Rory McIlroy, Northern Ireland

Rory McIlroy hits on the 1st hole at the 146th Open Championship. File photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI
Mired in a slump, McIlroy earlier this week fired caddie J.P. Fitzgerald, who had been with him for nine seasons and all four of his major championships, the last in the 2014 PGA Championship. After Rory made bogeys in five of first six holes in the Open Championship, Fitzgerald basically chewed out his boss, who rallied to finish in a tie for fourth after missing the cut in the Irish Open and the Scottish Open, but apparently McIlroy still felt the need for a change. McIlroy, No. 4 in the world, has 22 pro victories, including 13 on the PGA Tour, but hasn't won since claiming the Tour Championship to wrap up the FedExCup last September. He won the 2014 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational by two strokes over Sergio Garcia, but missed his title defense because of a left ankle injury and skipped the tournament last year to play an event in Europe. His other title in the World Golf Championships came in the 2015 WGC Cadillac Match Play Championship, when he beat Gary Woodland 4 and 2 in the final.

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4. Hideki Matsuyama, Japan

Hideki Matsuyama of Japan chips to No. 18 during the final round of the 117th U.S. Open. File photo by Brian Kersey/UPI
With two victories and three-runner-up finishes on the PGA Tour during the 2016-17 season, Matsuyama is third behind Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson in the FedExCup point standings, in addition to No. 3 in the world rankings. He had been in a bit of a slump since winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open in February before tying for second in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills and tying for 11th in the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale in his last two starts. Matsuyama will tee it up in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational for the fifth time, with his best result a tie for 12th three years ago, when he played the weekend in 65-68 at Firestone. He has won 13 times in his pro career, including four on the PGA Tour, with his only victory in the World Golf Championships coming when he captured the WGC-HSBC Champions by seven strokes over Daniel Berger and Henrik Stenson of Sweden last October in China.

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5. Rickie Fowler, United States

Rickie Fowler tees from No. 6 during the final round of the 117th U.S. Open. File photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
Even though Fowler claimed his fourth PGA Tour victory earlier this season in the Honda Classic, until he wins more consistently the knock on him will be that he has trouble closing the deal. His seven top-10 results this season include a tie for second in the Memorial, ties for third in the Shell Houston Open and the Quicken Loans National, a tie for fourth in the Waste Management Phoenix Open and a tie for fifth in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills. Fowler is making his eighth start in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and has finished in the top 10 on four occasions, including a tie for second in 2011, his best result in the World Golf Championships. He also tied for eighth in 2014 and tied for 10th each of the last two years on the South Course at Firestone, closing with a 67 each time. He has a total of nine top-10 finishes in the WGC events.

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6. Jon Rahm, Spain

Jon Rahm reacts to missing a putt on the 10th green during round 2 of the 117th U.S. Open. File photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
Even though he has been a pro for a little more than a year, Rahm has figured out most courses quickly the first time around and expect more of the same this week in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone. This will be his tournament debut, but in the only World Golf Championships he has played, the Spaniard tied for third in the WGC-Mexico Championship and lost to top-ranked Dustin Johnson in the final of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. Those are two of his seven top-10 results on the PGA Tour this season, including his first victory in the Farmers Insurance Open, and he also tied for second in the Dean & DeLuca Invitational. The sixth-ranked Rahm had an unimpressive tie for 44th in the 146th Open Championship, but two weeks earlier he claimed his second pro victory by six strokes in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open on the European Tour. Next week he will play in the PGA Championship for the first time.

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7. Brooks Koepka, United States

Brooks Koepka poses with the trophy after winning the 117th U.S. Open. File photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
The U.S. Open champion at Erin Hills in June followed that up with a tie for sixth in the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, and his worst result in the last four majors was a tie for 11th in the Masters in April. He also tied for fourth in the PGA Championship last year at Baltusrol. Koepka has risen to No. 10 in the world rankings and seventh in the FedExCup standings with six finishes in the top 10 this season, including runner-up results in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and the Valero Texas Open. He is making his second start in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, having posted four scores in the 60s two years ago at Firestone to tie for sixth, but he was forced to withdraw before the start of the tournament last year because of a right ankle injury. That tie for sixth is Koepka's best finish in eight starts in the World Golf Championships.

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8. Henrik Stenson, Sweden

Sweden's Henrik Stenson putts on the 10th green on Day two at the 146th Open Championship. File photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI
The Big Swede is winless since capturing the 2016 Open Championship at Royal Troon for his first major championship and he has missed the cut in five of his last eight starts on the PGA Tour, including the Masters and the U.S. Open. However, in between those missed weekends, Stenson tied for seventh in the Valspar Championship, tied for 16th in the Players Championship and tied for 11th in his title defense in the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, so the 2016-17 season has not been a total loss. The eighth-ranked player in the world is making his 10th start in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, although he skipped the tournament last year because of schedule issues caused by the return of golf to the Olympics. His best result at Firestone was a tie for second in 2013, seven strokes behind Tiger Woods. Stenson's only victory in the World Golf Championships came when he beat Geoff Ogilvy 2 and 1 in the final of the 2007 WGC-Accenutre Match Play Championship.

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9. Jason Day, Australia

Jason Day watches his drive off the 18th tee during round 2 of the 117th U.S. Open. File photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
The seventh-ranked Aussie has been slowed by physical and family issues this season, but he has shown some life recently with a solo second in the AT&T Byron Nelson, a tie for 15th in the Memorial Tournament and was in the conversation in the Open Championship before he closed with a 71 to tie for 27th in his last start. However, Day has been inconsistent, also missing the cut in the cut in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills and the Travelers Championship. He will tee it up for the eighth time in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, recording his best result at Firestone when he tied for third last year, taking the lead to the final round before closing with a 72 to wind up three shots behind winner Dustin Johnson. His only other top-10 result was a tie for fourth in 2011, when he opened with a 63. Day has two titles in the World Golf Championships, winning the WGC Match Play title in 2014 and 2016.

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10. Sergio Garcia, Spain

Sergio Garcia hits off of the 10th tee during round 1 of the 117th U.S. Open. File photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
The reigning Masters champion will be playing in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational after being married to Angela Akins last weekend in Texas. The fifth-ranked Spaniard also won the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on the European Tour early in the year, but he might have been distracted leading up to the wedding because his best result on the PGA Tour since was a tie for 12th in the Dean & DeLuca Invitational. He tied for 21st in the U.S. Open and tied for 37th in the Open Championship in his last two starts. Garcia will tee it up in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational for the 16th time and came close to winning in 2014, when he shot 61 in round two and took the lead to the final day before closing with a 71 to wind up second, two strokes behind Rory McIlroy. That is his best result in the World Golf Championships, although he has finished in the top 10 on a total of 12 occasions.

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