Five Favorites for 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

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Top Five: 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

Debby Wong - USA TODAY Sports

With three majors down and only three weeks left until the start of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, we’re officially entering the last legs of the PGA Tour’s 2013 schedule. The intensity is going to be kicked up a few levels for everybody, whether they’re trying to make the top 125 on the money list and secure their card for next year or make a move for the season’s championship and the $10 million prize that goes with it.

This week, while the Reno-Tahoe Open takes place in Nevada, the eyes of the golf world are on Akron, Ohio and Firestone Country Club, host of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

The third World Golf Championships event of the year, the Bridgestone Invitational features 75 of the top players in the world, including 48 of the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings. With the limited field, there won’t be a cut this week, so to go with the natural strength of the field, everybody will get the full weekend to make something happen.

There are plenty of storylines to follow this week. Perhaps the most scrutinized player not named Tiger, Rory McIlroy makes his first appearance in an American tournament since finishing tied for 41st at Merion for the U.S. Open and is hoping to use this as a kick-start on an otherwise frustrating year. We’ll also have the winners of all three of the year’s majors – Adam Scott, Justin Rose, and Phil Mickelson – teeing it up in preparation for next week’s PGA Championship. And, of course, Tiger Woods will be looking for a record eighth Firestone title.

Firestone itself is going to prove a challenging task for the field this week, too. Measuring in at right around 7,400 yards and playing to a par-70, the hole to watch is the par-5 16th. At a ridiculous 667 yards, Arnold Palmer once called it a “monster” and the nickname stuck. Even with dry conditions, the longest hitters on Tour are going to face tough decisions on their second and third shots. This could be a major swing spot come Sunday.

Considering all the challenges, picking the top players for this week is no easy task; the field is just too good for there to be a lot of separation between most of these guys. Everybody picked to play here has proven their ability to win, and it should prove to be an exciting week of golf.

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5) Brandt Snedeker

Debby Wong - USA TODAY Sports

Looking to make it two in a row, Brandt Snedeker is back in top form heading into the last leg of the PGA Tour’s regular season. He had a rough go of things last year at Firestone, finishing T50, but ranks 23rd in Greens in Regulation this year and second in birdie average. It's tough to go back-to-back out there, but he earned every bit of that win last week at the Canadian Open. When the flat stick is working for Snedeker, look out.

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4) Keegan Bradley

Debby Wong - USA TODAY Sports

The winner at Firestone last year, Keegan Bradley came from four strokes back for that victory, then followed it up with a third-place finish at the PGA Championship. He puts in the hours of work to gear up for the majors and the playoffs. Currently 17th in the FedEx Cup points race, look for Bradley to get aggressive and make a run this week.

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3) Matt Kuchar

Leo Mason - USA TODAY Sports

Matt Kuchar is the owner of three straight top-20s at Firestone, including two top tens in 2010 and 2012. Kuchar’s biggest challenge this week is going to be keeping it in play, as he ranks 145th in driving accuracy. Of course, that hasn’t stopped him at all this year, as he’s also sixth in scoring average with two wins and a close call last week in Canada on the 2013 resume. As always, there won’t be any fireworks from him, but Kuchar should be right there all weekend.

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2) Adam Scott

Leo Mason - USA TODAY Sports

Adam Scott rebounded nicely from his difficulties at the U.S. Open and AT&T National with another stellar outing at Muirfield. In 2011, Scott rode an opening-round 62 to the win here at the Bridgestone, and as one of the better tee-to-green players on Tour (13th in total driving, 20th in GIR, 17th in the all-around), he’ll be close. His putter’s been a little rusty since Augusta, but if he gets that in line, another win isn’t out of the question.

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1) Tiger Woods

Leo Mason - USA TODAY Sports

Stop me if you've heard this one before. Tiger Woods is still the best player in the world, and as much as we know he likes to play at Augusta National, Firestone should be right behind on the list of his favorites. He has seven wins at Firestone since 1999 and is the obvious favorite to get another one. The only thing I can see getting in Tiger’s way is if he’s got his attention already on Oak Hill next week. If he can keep his usual laser focus on the task at hand, it should be a fifth win for Woods in 2013.