WGC Bridgestone Invitational preview and betting tips from Ben Coley

Last Updated August 02 2018, 13:12Golf
Justin Thomas heads our staking plan this week
Justin Thomas heads our staking plan this week

After more each-way returns on the PGA Tour last week, golf expert Ben Coley previews the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

Recommended bets:

2pts e.w. Justin Thomas at 30/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

2pts e.w. Jason Day at 25/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

1pt e.w. Kevin Chappell at 80/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

0.75pt e.w. Kyle Stanley at 125/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6)

0.75pt e.w. Brendan Steele at 200/1 (1/5 1,2,3,4,5,6,7)

  • For details of advised bookmakers and each-way terms, visit our transparent tipping record

Eight course wins, one course record and an enthralling return to top-level contention at the Open Championship - the case for Tiger Woods winning the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational is not difficult to make.

The latest of 90 worldwide triumphs came here at Firestone five years ago and in some style, a second-round 61 sending him off into the distance before he ultimately won by seven. And that's not even his most dominant display at the course, nor is his eight-stroke success in 2007. No, turn-of-the-century Tiger, surely the most dominant sportsman of his time, shot 21-under to win by 11.

All these positives, combined with top-six finishes in each of his last two starts, add up to 14/1. It's just about the price you'd expect and whether you consider it value will largely depend on how strongly you weight history, for one thing is clear: time waits for no man, not even Eldrick Tont Woods.

It is right that we enjoy Tiger's renaissance, right that we focus on his remarkable strength of mind and body to return from surgeries which would spell the end for others to once again establish himself as an elite golfer at a time when young athletes dominate the sport. Yet the ruthlessness required of any punter dictates that we must also analyse how he's performed when presented with a chance to win.

Standing on the 11th tee at Carnoustie, Tiger led the Open. He was in front of his playing partner and in command, yet two hours later it was Francesco Molinari who had produced the cool, calculated performance required to win, Woods unable to either avoid mistakes or rally after they had been made.

Once upon a time, the idea of Molinari - a self-confessed pacifist on the golf course whose nature does not lend itself to staring anyone down, least of all Woods - would have crumbled in such a scenario, and Tiger would've gone in for the kill. That precisely the opposite happened tells you that there are now chinks in the armour; that even here, at Firestone, the sight of a charging TW will not have the same ripple effect it once did.

What else could we have expected? Even Roger Federer, the sportsman closest to defying the ageing process, finds himself more vulnerable and less terrifying now than he once did. How else would a player like Kevin Anderson come from two sets down to beat him, at Wimbledon of all places?

Earlier this year, Woods also failed to win the Valspar, even if his birdie at the 71st hole was something to behold, and he failed to sustain a Sunday charge at Bay Hill, going out-of-bounds when in pursuit of an eagle. He just isn't the same man he was a decade ago. Nobody is.

All of this is not to say he can't or won't win, simply that he doesn't warrant being shorter in the market than just about all bar Dustin Johnson. And he certainly doesn't warrant being less than half the price of Justin Thomas, who rates the headline bet despite the astonishing 33/1 having been taken.

Last week, Johnson bounced back from a missed cut at Carnoustie to dominate the Canadian Open and I can see a similar scenario unfolding with Thomas, who was eighth on a new golf course in Paris prior to one costly morning in an Open Championship.

The world number three in fact started very brightly in Scotland, despite being held back by the putter on greens far slower than he's used to, and I've no problem forgiving a difficult second round at the most awkward course on the rota. So far, he just hasn't quite figured out links golf; it's close to irrelevant at the very antithesis of Carnoustie.

In fairness it is possible to argue that he also hasn't quite managed to figure out Firestone, where he was 33rd on debut and 28th last year, but I see great encouragement in both those performances. First, in 2016, he was right in the mix until a poor final round and then last year he improved his score each day, striking the ball beautifully over the weekend as he closed 69-67 on one of the most demanding courses on the circuit.

Without question, that performance provided the springboard for his US PGA success a week later but it also demonstrated that he can create enough opportunities at this fiendishly long par 70, which has always favoured two types of player: those who drive the ball brilliantly, and/or those named Tiger Woods.

Thomas ranks 24th in strokes-gained off-the-tee this season and is fourth tee-to-green, statistics which read particularly well at a course where three of the last five champions have led the field in the latter category.

Names like Adam Scott, Hunter Mahan, Rory McIlroy Shane Lowry, Dustin Johnson and Hideki Matsuyama tell you that long, accurate driving is the starting point and while finding fairways isn't exactly Thomas's forte, at his best he's extremely confident off the tee and with good reason.


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His first win as a professional came under tough conditions here in Ohio, where earlier this season he finished eighth in the Memorial Tournament, and while he began his PGA Tour career winning a series of shootouts he's subsequently shown that demanding conditions are absolutely no problem.

Thomas lost a play-off for the WGC-Mexico and was a losing semi-finalist at the WGC-Match Play earlier this season and although his form right now is not as strong as he'd like, I don't believe it's as far away as the price implies. Quite how he's chalked up alongside Henrik Stenson, who complained of an elbow injury during Open week, and Tommy Fleetwood, is beyond me.

Let us not forget that Thomas has won at a one-in-six strike-rate since the start of the 2017 season. While six of these seven wins in 42 starts came when demonstrably in-form, the biggest and most significant came on a run of MC-MC-MC-28 and if there's any form line I can forgive, it's that which is drawn up in The Open.

As you'd expect, there's a case to be made for all of the best players in the world. DJ in particular looks solid - he won this immediately after taking the US Open two years ago and is more than capable of going back-to-back - while McIlroy is equally well suited to Firestone, despite there being just two par-fives to go at and one of them giving up just three eagles in the history of this event.

Justin Rose has been superb for a year now and produced his career-best Open finish last time out, Rickie Fowler has plenty of course form to his name, Jordan Spieth is Jordan Spieth and there is no hotter player on planet earth than Francesco Molinari, who looked to be getting to grips with the course on his last visit.

For better or worse, in such circumstances I tend to look for the elite players who aren't the order of the day for potentially spurious reasons and as well as leading me towards Thomas, they also point to Jon Rahm and Jason Day.

Both are winners at Torrey Pines, another of Tiger's favourite tracks, and that's significant. The South Course at Torrey is another ridiculously long, demanding par 70 which tends to favour a certain type of player, and the fact that Rahm and Day go so well there suggests to me that they can be factors here.

The trouble with both is that their iron play has not been up to scratch this year from a statistical perspective. Day leads the PGA Tour both on and around the greens courtesy of numbers which look borderline unsustainable but is well down in strokes-gained approach, and Rahm isn't much further up the charts at 128th.

These figures can be a little misleading - not every round has been measured - and while they are just about enough to put me off Rahm, one of just four players to produce three rounds of 68 or better here last year on what was his debut in the event, I am willing to give Day the benefit of the doubt.

Jason Day
Jason Day can go well in his adopted home state

Primarily, that's because he's been here and done it when it comes to contending at Firestone without his best long-game. Back in 2016, while it eventually caught up with him as he finished third, Day looked like the winner all week until the 15th hole on Sunday yet at no point did he appear to have his best from tee-to-green.

He's spoken of how he loves the course because it gives him the opportunity to launch driver, find a way to get it close to the green and work his magic from there, and the experience he's built up here gives him an edge over the Spaniard, even if Rahm has defied such disadvantages several times already.

I'm also taken with Day's return to form lately - four under-par rounds for 12th in the Travelers followed by 17th at Carnoustie represent a big upturn on his other two post-PLAYERS starts - and he's going to enjoy returning to Ohio, which he now calls home.

It's a positive that he skipped the Canadian Open, Mahan being the only recent winner of the Bridgestone who teed it up there, and at 25/1 having won twice in 11 starts this year, both in events which correlate nicely with this, I'm willing to take on board those issues with his iron play.

Phil Mickelson is probably overpriced again at 66/1 and comes under consideration along with Louis Oosthuizen and his effortless but non-threatening sequence of top-20 finishes. So too do Zach Johnson, a fairly regular contender here despite his lack of power, and Charley Hoffman, who was underwhelming in Canada but is a considerably bigger price here at Firestone, and has turned a corner lately.

However, I want to lean heavily on serious ball-strikers and it's with that in mind that Kevin Chappell is next on the list.

Chappell was bang in the mix at Carnoustie last time and while somewhat out of the blue, he had shown signs with four sub-70 rounds at the Travelers that he was emerging from a miserable spring slump.

Whether or not it's in time to make a late run at a Ryder Cup place will depend entirely on the next fortnight and Chappell can draw great encouragement from his record here, finishing 69-67 for third in 2016 and again defying a mediocre start for 13th place in 2017.

Those efforts make perfect sense as we're talking about one of the very best tee-to-green performers on the circuit, one who has gone well at Muirfield Village, another driver-friendly course in Ohio which offers definite Firestone pointers.

While Tiger winning at both venues tells us little, David Lingmerth followed his Muirfield win with back-to-back top-10 finishes here and William McGirt also highlights the potential correlation, having been seventh at Firestone two months on from his breakthrough victory in the Memorial Tournament.

Chappell was second to Matt Kuchar there a few years ago and what I really like about his contending performance at Carnoustie is that it bears similarities to the seventh place at Augusta National last year which immediately preceded victory in the Valero Texas Open.

While that remains his solitary PGA Tour success, Chappell is a frequent high-class contender having almost won the TOUR Championship, been second to Day at the PLAYERS and the Arnold Palmer, third to Rory in the 2011 US Open and third to DJ here, and he represents good each-way value.

This year's Memorial Tournament was won by Bryson DeChambeau at the chief expense of Kyle Stanley, with Patrick Cantlay and Byeong Hun An also in the mix, and all four players must be respected.

Cantlay looks the most solid but that's reflected in odds of 50/1 and I prefer Stanley at the prices, especially as he's now gone really well at Muirfield Village on three separate occasions and ought to have won at Torrey Pines earlier in his career.

Last time out he was a solid 39th in the Open, sitting inside the top 20 after rounds two and three, and at sixth on the PGA Tour for ball-striking and 22nd off the tee, he's got precisely the right game to thrive at Firestone.

Stanley was 16th here in 2012 and that was his best performance of the remainder of the year following victory in Phoenix in February, which in turn had come on the back of that famous Torrey Pines meltdown.

That he was able to find form at the course speaks to how well suited he is to it and it's no surprise that his effort came courtesy of a strong tee-to-green performance, ranking seventh in a high-class field.

With his second top-flight success having been earned last summer at a really difficult course over in Maryland, conditions look ideal for the pick of the three-figure options on display.

Finally, I can't resist adding Brendan Steele at 200/1.

A wonderful driver of the ball, Steele has been 48th and 24th on his two previous visits to Firestone and there was much to like about his return to the course after a six-year absence last year, as he recovered from an opening 73 to post rounds of 68, 69 and 68.

It's fair to say his form since a strong start to the season has been fairly mediocre, but Steele continues to strike the ball well, ranking third for greens and sixth for fairways at Carnoustie, where making the cut and closing with a very solid round of 70 should help boost his confidence levels.

At sixth in strokes-gained off the tee, 33rd in strokes-gained approach and 11th in driving distance, Steele is undoubtedly of the skill set required to tame this beast of a course and there was just about enough in his Open performance to earn him preference over the frustrating Gary Woodland.

Posted at 1735 BST on 30/07/18.

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