By BRAD BOURNIVAL
There are 80 professionals competing at the Bridgestone Invitational, but thereâ€™s just one opponent every golfer is worried about.
No, his name is not Tiger Woods. In fact, the foe is 7,400 yards long and has left more than one golfer cursing its name as it walks off the course.
Most weeks, the pros come chasing either a win in a major or the worldâ€™s hottest golfer. When they come to Firestone Country Clubâ€™s South Course, they come knowing everyone is pretty much an equal on the par-70 layout.
â€œThis is such a great setup for the best players in the world to separate themselves,â€ said Phil Mickelson, a three-time major winner. â€œThereâ€™s a huge reward to hitting fairways here because the rough is tough to control into these greens and the greens are difficult.â€
Firestone does have its character, which is a big reason why the PGA Tour and World Golf Championships keep coming back to Warner Road, bringing the top 50 golfers in the world plus members of the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams.
The only course in the world to have held three televised golf events in one calendar year â€” The American Golf Classic, CBS Golf Classic and World Series of Golf â€” Firestone got its identity in 1960 thanks to Arnold Palmer.
The golf great dubbed the 16th hole â€œThe Monsterâ€ after he took a triple-bogey 8 that probably cost him the championship won by Jay Herbert.
Fast forward 48 years and you can still hear professionals drop a couple R-rated comments after walking off a hole that now measures 667 yards.
Firestone was rated the fourth-hardest course on the tour behind Oakmont, Augusta National and Southern Hills last year with a 2.8 above-par average.
That the three courses ahead of it hosted the U.S. Open, The Masters and the PGA Championship, respectively, shows just why the pros respect it so much.
It also shows why Firestone has been a fixture in the sport for many years and will most likely continue being the face of some of the best golf in the world.
â€œYou donâ€™t come here with a game plan and think the game itself is going to carry you through like other courses,â€ said Stewart Cink, who won the event in 2004. â€œZach Johnson is a good example. At The Masters he laid up on all the par-5s and ended up winning. Here you donâ€™t have a whole lot of risk-reward type holes.
â€œYou just have to hit it in the fairways. If your game is not on or youâ€™re hitting a little crooked, youâ€™re hitting it in the rough. You canâ€™t make birdies. That basically explains it.â€
Bournival may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-721-4045.