WGC-Bridgestone experts' picks

July, 31, 2012
07/31/12
9:12
AM ET
Each week of the season, our experts will share their insights into which players fit the criteria for our four categories: Horse for the Course (a golfer who knows the track inside and out), Birdie Buster (a guy who could take it low this week), Super Sleeper (a player who could unexpectedly contend) and Winner.

This week's tournament: The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio.

Horse for the Course


Michael Collins, ESPN.com senior golf analyst: Tiger Woods
Yes, he's got some serious swing issues, but, as with the three events he has won this year, he's comfortable on this course and knows it better than anyone else in the field. Twelve starts, seven wins and a scoring average of 68. He has earned almost $9.5 million at this event alone. I challenge anyone to find me a better "horse"!

Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Tiger Woods
Since this became a WGC event in 1999, the 14-time major champion has won the tournament at Firestone seven times. In 2000, he won by 11 shots.

Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Tiger Woods
He's always loved Firestone Country Club, even if his most recent two appearances were dreadful. Woods was at the bottom two years ago and last year was just coming back from injury. But he has won this tournament seven times.

Kevin Maguire, ESPN.com senior golf editor: Steve Stricker
Affable Stricker returns to action post-Open Championship at a course where he has shot par or better in nine of his past 12 rounds, and he has finished inside the top 15 at Firestone each of the past three years.


Birdie Buster


Michael Collins: Luke Donald
Other than missing the cut at the U.S. Open, the world No. 1 (yes he's still there) has put together another extremely solid year. This week, he's back in action after a strong finish at the Open Championship, and again his grip on the top ranking could be threatened. So far, he's been up to every challenger who has come at him. That will continue once more this week.

Farrell Evans: Francesco Molinari
The 29-year-old Italian has had a 10th, two seconds and a 39th in his past four starts. Last year, he finished 15th in Akron.

Bob Harig: Scott Piercy
He is coming off his second PGA Tour victory, winning the RBC Canadian Open on Sunday, meaning he won't defend his Reno title but instead gets a spot in the World Golf Championship field. Piercy is playing with house money.

Kevin Maguire: Tiger Woods
Yes, everyone likes to cite his seven wins at this event, but two things are more impressive to me: (1) He has won with scores as low as 21 under and as high as 6 under, showing his ability to adapt and win with any conditions, and (2) tossing aside the past two years around his scandal, he never has been outside the top 4 in his other 10 career starts.


Super Sleeper


Michael Collins: Francesco Molinari
The first year he played the event (2010) he finished T-39 with only one round in the 60s. The Italian tripled that number the next year and finished T-15, with one of those three rounds a 64. Now ranked 29th in the world, his only missed cut on both tours was at The Players Championship. Because he has spent most of his time on the European Tour, many Americans don't know him.

Farrell Evans: Phil Mickelson
The 40-time PGA Tour winner has looked miserable and frustrated for the past couple of months on the golf course. He's had a WD, a T-65 and two missed cuts in his past four starts. He hasn't won at Firestone since it became a World Golf Championship in 1999, but he did win on the Akron course in 1996, when the tournament was known as the World Series of Golf.

Bob Harig: Adam Scott
The defending champion is coming off his tough loss at the Open Championship, where he bogeyed the final four holes. He's obviously playing well, but can he recover and get back in the hunt?

Kevin Maguire: Nicolas Colsaerts
The Belgian Bomber is coming off a seventh place finish at the Open Championship to tee it up in an event he has never played. His 317.1-yard average off the tee will serve him well at 7,400-yard, par-70 Firestone.


Winner


Michael Collins: Rickie Fowler
It's time for the Sunday orange kid to get win No. 2 of the year. Many forget he finished second here last year, probably because second place was 4 shots behind eventual winner Adam Scott. What I like the best about Rickie is he doesn't do one thing better than anything else. That's why he's 12th in the all-around ranking, and this course tests all aspects of the game, which plays perfectly into Rickie's hand.

Farrell Evans: Bo Van Pelt
The 37-year-old Richmond, Ind., native has a tour-leading seven top-10s on the year, including a second at the AT&T National, where he held his own against the eventual winner, Tiger Woods. In Canada, Van Pelt finished seventh, seemingly without much effort. If top-10s are that easy for him, it's time for him to step his game up and win more.

Bob Harig: Graeme McDowell
He has never played particularly well in this tournament, but he's been playing well of late, giving himself a chance at each of the past two majors by playing in the final group on Sunday. He didn't win, but he has consecutive top-5 finishes and appears on the verge of winning again.

Kevin Maguire: Lee Westwood
After getting knocked around a bit at Royal Lytham, Westwood returns with a bang at the WGC-Bridgestone, where he had a career-best T-2 finish in the event back in 2008.

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