WGC Bridgestone Invitational – Tiger looking to capture past glory but Rory is the man on form

Standard

Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods

It’s the last stop before the final major (PGA Championship) of the season, the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. Tiger Woods won here last year earning him his eighth career victory at this particular tournament. This is a course he knows very well. Tiger will be looking to put behind him his recent lacklustre performance at The Open and try to make his way up the FedEx Cup rankings and also into the automatic points position for the Ryder Cup team.

This weekend’s tournament will be Tiger’s third since returning from back surgery. His first was at the end of June at the Quicken Loans National where he didn’t make the weekend cut. The second was his 69th placed finish at Hoylake just two weeks ago. Woods knows he needs to raise his game if he wants to be in contention for the big prize at the end of the season, the FedEx Cup. He has also stated his intentions to be part of Team USA at the Ryder Cup in Gleneagles this September. However, Captain Tom Watson has stated that his game will need to improve dramatically if he is even to be considered as a captain’s pick.

You can never count out Tiger though. He has dominated here in the past. When he won the tournament back in 2000, Woods leveled Jose Maria Olazabal’s course record of 61. He also broke Olazabal’s tournament record, marking a score of 259 (-21) over the four rounds. To say Tiger has fond memories of this course is arguably an understatement. A positive mental attitude can help a player a long way, especially with such a narrow course like that at Firestone. It is set up nicely as a warm up for Tiger to go for victory and psych himself up to win that elusive 15th major at Valhalla next week.

In his path to victory stands the contender to his golfing throne, Rory McIlroy. Fresh off his victory a fortnight ago at The Open, the Holywood native is looking to build on that victory and put himself in the frame to collect his second major this year (his career fourth) next week. A win at Firestone will set McIlroy up nicely for him to regain the major he won back in 2012 at Kiawah.

McIlroy put a poor year behind him in May when he won the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, his first tournament win since 2012. Since then he has settled into his Nike clubs and has dropped a certain Danish tennis player from his side (two additions in his life which were cited by some as the cause of his substandard displays during 2013 and early 2014). His victory at The Open returned the discussion of him being a young golfer with huge potential and a bright future in the game and not of his poor game and missed opportunities.

The heavy hitter will have to look for accuracy this weekend rather than his power if he plans to keep his shots on the green. His greens in regulation have been 67.78% so far this season on the PGA Tour. His driving distance has been an average of 307.5 yards (third highest on the tour) and his accuracy 59.64% (125th on the tour). It is a mixed bag but with the form Rory has been in, it would be hard not to see him at the top of the leaderboard come Sunday.

A name that may be somewhat of a dark horse to take home the win on Sunday evening is that of Matt Kuchar. A man who is under that list of great players to never win a major, the fourteen-year veteran is hitting that prime age to finally get his hands on a cherished major. He has had a solid season so far with nine top tens in eighteen events. He has a single win this season, the RBC Heritage back in April. His performances at the majors this year have been good with a tied 5th at The Masters and a 12th place finish at the U.S. Open with a poor tied 54th at The Open.

Still “Kuch” (as he is affectionately known as on the tour), can look at his stats for this season with a smile. Driving accuracy at 67.65% and a putting average of .536 shows his game could be well suited to this course. The only aspect of his game that diminishes his chances is his driving distance (281.9 yards) and playing alongside McIlroy and his long distance driving, may dishearten him. He has two top 10 finishes at Firestone in the last four years. A good four rounds this weekend and he could be fighting for the top spot.

Rickie Fowler will be another name to keep an eye on this weekend. The 25 year old has had a varied season between low finishes and not even making the cut but has produced on the big stage. He tied for 5th at The Masters and tied for 2nd at both the U.S. Open and The Open. It will be intriguing to see how the young golfer goes into this tournament, head held high after two impressive performances in succession or deflated after getting so close to the prize. My money would be on the former, Fowler has improved over the years and will want to add another title to the lone tour title he won back in 2012, the Wells Fargo Championship.

There will be plenty of talking points after this weekend in the lead up to the PGA Championship next week but you can be sure that there will be some good golf played this weekend as players attempt to scramble up the FedEx Cup table and aim for a play-off place. While members of Team Europe and Team USA will be looking to get their names into the automatic places for September’s Ryder Cup. With so much on the line, it’s all to play for at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational.

Advertisements

What now for the Seleção?

Standard

Brazil vs Germany - World Cup 2014 It was built up to be their tournament. A chance to banish the “Ghosts of 1950,” which still haunt the nation today. Ultimately, it wasn’t meant to be. Brazil’s “Seven Steps to Heaven” turned into the “Road to Hell” by a determined German side that humiliated the five-time champions in front of their own fans, approximately 50,000 of them. How could this have happened?

The suggestion would be that they became too predictable. As Ken Early attested to after their game against Mexico, Brazil became “eerily familiar” to that of the Republic of Ireland team under the reign of Giovanni Trapattoni. Manager,  Luiz Felipe Scolari, kept the same core group of players in the starting eleven for practically every game, which “was good – but then stuck with it long past the point when he should have changed it.” Scolari, or “Big Phil” as he is known by on this side of the world, had to be forced into making changes to his starting eleven. Unfortunately, two of the changes he was forced into last night were arguably his two best players of the tournament, captain Thiago Silva and, the messiah of the national team, according to Brazilian fans, Neymar.

It was a record-breaking night. The heaviest defeat for Brazil in 94 years. The heaviest defeat for a host nation since the 1954 World Cup (Switzerland 5-7 Austria). And finally, Miroslav Klose became the overall top goalscorer in the World Cup, overtaking national icon Ronaldo.

The defence on the night, led by, captain for the night, David Luiz were a shambles (an understatement to say the least). After the insane 6 minutes that followed Miroslav Klose’s aforementioned record breaking goal, it looked as if anytime the Germans attacked; the ball would end up in the back of the net. Sami Khedira’s goal, the German’s fifth, summed up the Brazilian defence, his one-two in the box with Özil was tracked down by both Maicon and Dante leaving Khedira with plenty of time to take a shot on goal and in the end slot it home.

Shattered would be the one word that sums up the squad. Mentally and physically, the team looked exhausted. The emotion was always going to be tense with this team. They were meant to be the team that made people forget about Alcides Ghiggia’s winning goal that won Uruguay the World Cup in the Maracanã and snatched a dream victory from the Brazilians.

The empathy is summed up by the home crowd singing their national anthem a cappella. The sentiment got too over bearing for poor Neymar before the Mexico game. Tears rolled down the face of the boy from São Paulo as the anthem came to its end. Crouched over, he tried to bring himself together before kick-off. Then last night to top it off, members of the squad wore baseball caps with “#ForçaNeymar” stitched into them and held a Brazilian shirt with Neymar and his squad number (10, if you have forgotten) while standing to attention belting out their national anthem. It looked like some organised posthumous honour to their fallen comrade. Thankfully, there were no tears involved this time.

The question remains – Where does Brazil go from here?

Well, you can be sure that quite a few members of this Brazilian squad will never play for their country again. Simply, the fans won’t allow it. Football to them is more than just a sport; it’s a religion (cue Jon Oliver montage!). Their booing of players they cheered only two weeks earlier, Fred in particular, sums up their attitude. I’m aware that the fans in Belo Horizonte are not the same fans that go to watch Campeonato Brasileiro games week in, week out but you can bet that the feeling is the same everywhere. A feeling of severe disappointment and shame.

The obvious start will be next year’s Copa América. This will act for the team as a building exercise with its younger players. This will give them a chance to look at what they have and who they can look at to work alongside Neymar in the future leading towards Russia 2018.

With “Big Phil” most likely to resign as manager after Saturday, the talk will now be around who takes over. If I was to play fantasy federation CEO (a game I’m sure Championship Manager fanatics are craving for), there would be one man I would talk to and that is José Pékerman, the current Colombia boss. The only thing stopping him from taking over? The colours of Sky Blue and White…for José is Argentine.

Pékerman’s most successful spell was his time with the Argentina U-20 team. He won the FIFA U-20 World Cup with his side in 1995, 1997 and 2001. He is also the man to give Lionel Messi both his U-20 and full international debuts for his country. His downfall with the Argentina squad was in the quarter-final game against Germany in 2006. Leaving a young Messi (who impressed in the victorious 2005 FIFA U-20 World Cup winning squad) on the bench, his team bowed out on penalties having taken the lead through Roberto Ayala’s goal only for it to be cancelled out by Klose’s equaliser ten minutes from full-time.

However, he has impressed with Colombia at this World Cup. His only failing would have been not utilising Juan Fernando Quintero enough. The Porto midfielder is set to have a bright future in the game. His official debut for Porto ended up with the exciting prospect scoring after 30 seconds. It wasn’t quite Messi and 2006. In fairness to Pékerman, he intended to bring on the Barcelona forward but exhausted his substitutes after goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri was injured and need to be taken off.

If egos and national pride were to be put to one side that would be this writer’s pick at least. However, Brazil is not short of managers and there will be plenty of discussions around the country as to who of the domestic options should replace Scolari.

So it’s that time again where Brazil has to step back and take a long, hard look at themselves. They have overcome obstacles before. After the horror of 1950, they went on to win their maiden title in 1958 and their second, four years later, in ‘62. After a poor showing in ‘66, they won it again in 1970 with the greatest national team of all time. Knocked out of the second round by eternal rivals Argentina in 1990, they won the trophy back in ‘94 and after the heartbreak of ‘98 they beat their opponents of last night, Germany in 2002.

We can never really rule Brazil out. They will want most likely want to go to Chile next summer and make a point to their critics at the Copa América. They’ll need some drastic changes though if they want to the rise from the ashes of the Phoenix. However, what is known for sure is that they have replaced the “Ghosts of 1950” with the “Ghosts of 2014.“ Should the eternal rival and especially, the “Flea,” lift the Jules Rimet trophy on Sunday night, expect that “Ghost” to be replaced by a “Demon.”