You know Akron... that's LeBron Country. (For you international readers who don't recognize the name, LeBron James is probably the top player in the NBA and he led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Championship a couple of weeks ago, breaking a 52-year drought of victories in ANY pro sport. And LeBron was born in Akron.)
Of course, several big names are missing this year, headed by Rory McIlroy. The centennial edition of the Open de France is this week, and it offers double points for the Ryder Cup, as well as counting as two events toward the Race to Dubai. Add in the ET's decision NOT to count the WGC this week toward the Race to Dubai, and you can see why many big names are there.
I'm leaving a couple of other players off my Watch list for various reasons. Bubba was runner-up last year, but I suspect the stress of the Greenbrier flood will be on his mind. I'm also leaving Jason Day off because I think his decision to skip the Olympics despite being #1 may end up being a media distraction. Of course, there are still plenty of big names in the field, beginning with:
- Shane Lowry. His decision to defend his title will no doubt win him a lot of support this week. Given his T2 at the US Open a couple of weeks back, he's on form to get that defense done! And he may feel that he has something to prove, given that the ET forced him to choose between defending his title and getting credit for playing this week.
- Brooks Koepka is also playing pretty well this year, and he finished T6 last year at Bridgestone. It's hard not to give him serious consideration for the title this year. At this point in his career, Koepka is in search of a first "big" tournament and a WGC often fills that role.
- Jordan Spieth also probably feels that he has something to prove this week after his struggles at the US Open. He played only slightly better than Jason Day at this event last year, but Jason was in full flight at the time so Jordan may feel he has a decent chance to make up ground on #1. The big question is whether he can get out of his own way and just play golf this week.
- Rickie Fowler has been struggling this season, despite an international win. But he had a Top10 here last year, and he did show signs of improvement in his last event. It's hard to believe that he won't get out of this funk he's in, sooner rather than later.
- And my flier is Jim Furyk. Jim seems to play consistently well at Bridgestone, but he's had a short season due to the wrist surgery and says he's still breaking up the scar tissue in the wrist. Nevertheless, he posted a T2 at the US Open so a run at Bridgestone certainly isn't out of the question.
But don't be surprised if the field treats this event as if it were a major. Since next week's Greenbrier Classic has been cancelled, players may decide the extra week of rest will allow them to put more than usual effort into winning this WGC.