by Jeff Skinner
The World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational is a stage that gives hard core golf fans everything they want: the world’s best golfers on a great, historic course. This week it even gives the casual fans what they want: Tiger Woods.
In addition to Tiger’s return there are plenty of questions at Firestone Country Club this week.
- First and foremost, what will Tiger give us this week? He’s back for the first time in eleven weeks with an aggressive attitude and some new chin fuzz. Forget the caddy controversy and all the bluster he puts up like “I’m here to win” let’s just see if he can play. Walking four rounds at Firestone will test his leg and this competition will test his game. Yes, he garners attention by just showing up but can he do his talking with his clubs?
- Can Graeme McDowell shake off his poor season and become relevant again? The former U.S. Open Champ has had a very disappointing 2011. His biggest moment was when his mate Rory McIlroy won at Congressional. He only has three top tens on the PGA Tour this season and those came in the first three months of the year. He missed the cut at The Masters and The Open Championship and his best Euro Tour finish was a third place back in January. Disappointing isn’t quite strong enough.
- Can Phil Mickelson make a two foot putt? All right, that may be a cheap shot but there isn’t a player on any tour that makes so many amazing shots but then follows it up with an amateur mistake by missing a gimmie. Phil will be looking to bounce back from a missed cut last week and get his game tuned for The PGA Championship next week. Can Phil’s arthritis be affecting his game more than Phil lets on? Maybe, but Phil is still capable of greatness and this would be a fitting showcase for it.
- Will Lee’s quickie pay off? Lee Westwood made news last week for sitting down with Dr. Bob Rotella and taking a quick lesson with Dave Stockton and sons. Putting has been Westwood’s downfall for years and he gets frustrated by the short stick. Can Westwood’s crash course with Dr. Bob and Stockton work a miracle? He really would like it to take effect next week at The PGA so he can win that elusive first major.
- Will Rory Tweet? Rory McIlroy is back in action after his “Twitter-gate” episode. He attacked Jay Townsend after Townsend was less than complimentary about his caddy. Like any mate would he defended his man but went a bit too far. Hopefully he’ll put a filter on that Twitter account and let his clubs do the talking. A win makes any caddy look good.
- Will World Number One get some respect? Luke Donald has had a very successful season with wins on the PGA Tour and The European Tour. He is the top golfer in the World Golf Rankings but he still is missing that major championship. The WGC isn’t a major but it’s as close as you can get and a win here cements Donald’s number one ranking.
- Can Ian Poulter salvage his PGA Tour season? Poulter gets plenty of press for his fashion sense but this season on The PGA Tour has been a flop. He has one top ten finish and that was in the first week of the season. He is 110th in FedEx Cup points and only earned a bit over half a million. Yes, he has a win on the Euro Tour back in May but he has been invisible in the states this season.
- Rickie or Matteo, who wins the battle of the kids? In a great move, the PGA Tour paired Rickie Fowler and Matteo Manassero together for the first two rounds. With the exception of Rory, these are the two most exciting youngsters out there. Manassero has two Euro tour wins and Fowler has been close but has yet to break through. These two are very young, very exciting players. Is the Tour trying to give Rickie a little nudge here, showing him that his rival has already notched a few W’s? Maybe, but I think what we have here is a classic Ryder Cup matchup for decades to come.
- Can Adam Scott handle the pressure of playing with Tiger’s caddy? No non-winning tour player has been in the headlines more recently than Scott. His addition of Steve Williams to his bag and the Woods/Williams controversy has been tabloid worthy. Any chance that Woods and Scott could play together on the weekend? I know the television executives are hoping that will happen. That would be some entertaining television.
- Has Darren Clarke stopped partying yet? Now that’s a silly question. Of course he hasn’t. He was partying before the Open Championship and he’ll be carrying on for years after. And it is well deserved. Clarke will be front and center as he is paired with his pal Tiger for the first two rounds. The world couldn’t get much better for Darren right now, but a win here would test the limits of the Guinness distributor in Akron.