The Field

This is a WGC event, which means that there is a limited field in play this week.   The flip side to that however is that this is also an incredibly stacked field.  Almost all of the top players in the world are here (sans Tiger Woods, is he still top?) including Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson.  As this is the final event before the PGA championship most players will be looking to put in four solid rounds before they head off to Whistling Straights.  Since the field is limited to 70 or so players there is no cut on Friday or Saturday so fantasy strategy will undoubtedly change a bit.  You don’t have to be concerned so much with how your player starts, but you will still need some strong finishes and looking for 6 top 20’s or better from your players will be key.

The Course

Firestone Country Club (South Course), Akron, Ohio

 Par 70, 7400 yards

Firestone Country Club is an older styled course that has been around since the late 1920’s.  It was redesigned however by Robert Trent Jones in the 1960’s and also had some other tweaks done to it since then.  It’s still largely a very straight forward course in that there’s not many doglegs or hazards to worry about, and it relies on impeccable, fast greens and length for protection.  The course is long, but in past years players have not had too much difficulty with the length and low scores have been shot here.  There is a par 5 that measures longer than 650 yards most days but it’s still not overly difficult 92nd easiest hole last year).  The fact the other par 5 here measures much less in distance means players can still score well on both these holes.   The rest of the course is made up mostly of longer par 4’s (and some par 3’s too) and so while length will be a factor, ensuring tee shots hit the fairway will be key as well.USATSI_8663236_168381090_lowres

Last Five Winners

Rory McIlroy—2014
Tiger Woods—2013
Keegan Bradley—2012
Adam Scott—2011
Hunter Mahan—2010

What will it take to succeed at Firestone CC?

There’s a couple things that really come to mind.  The first is the fact that the course is long and so length and just solid tee to green play is crucial.  Players will need a good week off the tee and being just long probably isn’t good enough.  You can’t miss too far right or left here because the trees aren’t too far off the fairway and they will potentially lead to some dodgy second shots.  The second thing is good putting.  The greens here are typically fast, like Augusta fast, and that’s probably a huge reason why Tiger Woods has dominated this event (he traditionally has liked faster greens).  The last thing is just the ability to succeed in a quality field and not be intimidated.  For a lot of the mid-lower tier players this week will be about proving themselves and so finding those players who are ready to make a jump in an event like this will be key as well.

Who has had success at Firestone CC?

This event has a long history and so course history can play a big role this week:
  • Justin Rose might have the most consistent record amoung the big names. In his last 8 visits he’s nabbed three top 5’s and only finished outside the top 30 once.
  • Keegan Bradley has a really nice history here since he debuted in 2011. He has one victory and two top 5’s to boot.  He loves this place.
  • Hunter Mahan is another former winner with a great record at Firestone. In his last 6 visits he has three top 10’s (including a win) and only finished outside the top 15 twice. 
  • Ryan Moore is super long but he might be a sneaky play this week. He’s played here four times and his worst finish is 33rd.  Last year he finished 8th.
  • Finally, Ryan Palmer might not have a huge sample size, but in the two times he played this event he finished 3rd and 2nd.
Who has struggled here?
  • Phil Mickelson has played this event a ton but with no real success. In his last 12 attempts his best finish is 4th, but 8 times he’s finished 40th or worse.  Not what you’re looking for this week.
  • Brandt Snedeker is also someone who’s struggled here. In five attempts he’s only finished better than 33rd
  • I like Dustin Johnson’s length this week but not his record. In 6 tries he’s never cracked the top 15, hardly good for someone so pricey.
  • Martin Kaymer has also struggled here. He does have a 9th place finish but his other 6 visits have never resulted in better than 22nd.
What statistics are important?

There’s three main stats I’d recommend looking at this week:

Total Driving
Strokes gained: tee to green
Par 4 scoring

The course plays long but there’s also a ton of trees which will make wayward drives much more penal. As well, the rough is usually thicker than most courses here and reports so far this week have said it’s been grown out quite a bit. Players will thusly need to be long and accurate off the tee and total driving recognizes both those attributes.  With the emphasis this course places on solid driving and approach shots into the faster than normal greens, strokes gained: tee to green will also help you identify those players who are hitting it well in all areas and who should be able to handle these sorts of conditions. Players ranked highly in SGTTG have tended to do well at this event over the years.  Finally par 4 scoring is fairly self-explanatory this week.  There are lots of longer par 4’s on this par 70 course (only two par 5’s) and those who handle them the best will undoubtedly be the most successful.  Why not target players with a good history on these sorts of holes over the course of the season this week.

My Recommendation:

I’d definitely look at course history this week and make it a large factor in your decision making.  However don’t get too caught up in it as there are some newer players here who might fit this course very well.  Look for players who have been driving the ball extremely well and might be ready to tackle a longer more challenging course.  Players who have tended to do well at other courses with some length like Augusta National or Torrey Pines might also be considered.  With a no cut rule in effect I’d also recommend ensuring you don’t get too crazy with your lineups.  To land a top finish you’ll still need 5-6 top 15-20 finishes and so more balanced lineups, where all your players have a chance at a high finish, probably trump stars and scrubs lineups in a week like this.

My Pick: Hideki Matsuyama

Matsuyama is perfect for this course.  He ranks fifth in total driving and first in strokes gained: tee to green.  In short he’s a beast with his driver and irons and won’t have an issue with the challenging tee shots or fast greens.  He’s played here twice and finished 12th here last year.  His form has been great all season and I think he shows up and finally grabs his first win of the year.