Last week's Quicken Loans National in Virginia was really the best example of how handicapping winners in a golf tournament is such a crapshoot for the most part (and why I often stick to Top 10s).
Troy Merritt got his first career PGA Tour win in 96 starts by shooting a 4-under-par 67 on Sunday to beat Rickie Fowler by three strokes. Troy Merritt!?!? Guy entered the tournament having missed five straight cuts on Tour this year. In fact, he has missed more cuts (13) than made this season. He hadn't had a Top-50 finish since April. But this win got Merritt into this week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, next week's PGA Championship as well as the 2016 Masters. He was in danger of losing his Tour card but now gets a two-year exemption. When Merritt was in college, he won a record 21 tournaments, including seven his senior year at Boise State, so he's clearly got game. Merritt's 61 on Saturday was his second 61 of the 2014-15 season (second round of the RBC Heritage). Since 1983, only five players have had multiple rounds of 61 or better in the same season.
Frankly, Merritt wasn't the big story last week. As usual, Tiger Woods was. And he played perhaps his best golf of the year with a tie for 18th, shooting in the 60s in three of the four rounds. Tiger still has plenty of work to do to get high enough in the FedEx Cup standings to compete in the upcoming playoffs. He isn't qualified to play in this week's big-money WGC-Bridgestone.
Obviously, I didn't even think of Merritt last week. I did like a guy to win his first tournament: Tony Finau, but he finished T39. I did get Fowler at -125 for a finish of 10th or better as well as Justin Rose at -143. Got Fowler at +115 over Rose and -115 over Jimmy Walker. Also hit on Tiger at +135 over Daniel Summerhays.
So now we go from one of the worst fields of the year to one of the best at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone in Akron, and this is a tournament that Tiger used to own. He failed to qualify for the event for the first time since its inception in 1999. Tiger has won this tournament eight times.
Just two of the world's Top 50 are missing, one being the injured Rory McIlroy, who is the defending champion. Good news, though, for golf fans as reports are that McIlroy has scheduled a practice round this weekend at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, site of the PGA Championship. McIlroy will lose that No. 1 ranking this week if Jordan Spieth wins. Spieth, winner of the Masters and U.S. Open, is paired with British Open champion Zach Johnson the first two days. Of course, Spieth just missed out on that British Open playoff by a shot. Chris Kirk is the only other Top 50 guy missing.
At 7,400 yards, Firestone is the longest par-70 in a non-major. The par-15 16th is the longest hole on the PGA Tour at 667 yards.
PGA Tour Golf Odds: WGC-Bridgestone Invitational Favorites
To no surprise, Spieth is the heavy +500 favorite at Bovada. He played this tournament for the first time in 2014 and was T49. Spieth hasn't finished worse than T4 in his past four tournaments this year. I know he badly wants that No. 1 ranking. Is Spieth over that bogey on the 71st hole at St. Andrews? I've learned to trust in him.
Dustin Johnson and Jason Day are +1200 . Johnson was very good the first two rounds of the British Open but blew up on the weekend. Johnson won WGC-Cadillac title in Florida early this season and looks to become only the third player to ever win two WGCs in the same year. Tiger and Phil Mickelson are the others. Johnson doesn't have a great track record here. Day also just missed that playoff at St. Andrews but then won the Canadian Open the next week.
Adam Scott, Rose and Fowler round out the favorites at +1600. Scott won here in 2011 and was T8 last year. Rose was fourth here a year ago and Fowler also T8. He was second here in 2011. Fowler just won the week before the British Open in Scotland.
PGA Tour Picks: WGC-Bridgestone Invitational Expert Betting Predictions
For a Top-10 finish, I'll go with Spieth at -225, Fowler at +125, Scott at +130 and Sergio Garcia at +240. I don't like Zach Johnson at all this week as he's likely still celebrating winning the Claret Jug.
Heat-to-head, go with Fowler at -110 over Day (-120), Sergio (-115) over Hideki Matsuyama (-115), Scott (-115) over Rose (-115), Spieth (-175) over Dustin Johnson (+135), and Keegan Bradley (-110), who won here in 2012, over Bubba Watson (-120). Go with Fowler at +750 as the top American, Garcia at +550 as the top European.
I'm taking Sergio at +2800 to win as that's great value. Last year he was T2 here, shot a course-record 61 in Round 2 and held leads after 36 and 54 holes.
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