This week's World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, is the start of a grueling stretch on the PGA Tour, one that also includes next week's PGA Championship and four playoff events over the next seven weeks.
Keegan Bradley returns to Firestone as the defending champion, while Phil Mickelson makes his first start since winning the Open Championship at Muirfield. Tiger Woods will also be at Firestone and he's a player you always have to look out for there, where he's won seven times in his illustrious career.
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Before the start of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, we caught up with Firestone PGA Head Professional David Champagne for a little Q&A. Champagne talked about the course conditions, the similarities between Firestone and Oak Hill (site of the PGA Championship) and more.
PGA.com: David, as always, we appreciate your time. We've reached that time of year, where it seems there's one big tournament after another. This week marks one of the biggest in terms of non-majors on the PGA Tour schedule with the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone. Can you give our readers a little insight into how the course is playing right now?
Champagne: We’re very excited about the upcoming week. The weather forecast looks great and should produce some ideal scoring conditions. We have encountered a great deal of rain leading up to the tournament, not allowing the course to play as firm as we had hoped for, but the overall condition of the golf course is perfect.
PGA.com: Sometimes when there's a tournament the week before a major, players are there trying to prepare for the major. That's never the case at a World Golf Championship event -- players are trying to win that tournament. That said, are there any similarities that you can pinpoint between Firestone and Oak Hill?
Champagne: Growing up in Rochester, N.Y., I have had the fortune of playing both of these great golf courses. I do see some similarities in that Oak Hill and Firestone are both more of your old, traditional style golf courses. Narrow, tree-lined fairways will put a premium on ball striking especially at Oak Hill as they set up the golf course for a major. I like the fact both courses are pretty straight forward and they require you to be on top of your game. They always seem to produce great champions.
PGA.com: It's been a wild year so far. Tiger Woods has won four times. The majors have been fantastic. How much more exciting is it for you to host a tournament when so many of the Tour superstars are seemingly on top of their respective games?
Champagne: It's always a highlight of our year at Firestone. It's a great stretch of championships with the Open Championship, WGC at Firestone, and the PGA Championship all played within a month time frame. We always have one of the best fields of the year for the WGC here at Firestone. With so many of the top players in the world present, our Championship seems to always make for exciting finishes.
PGA.com: Will you have a chance to get out and watch any golf during tournament week? If so, what is it you're looking for when you watch the top players? I would think -- unlike most of us spectators -- you probably look at things with a more critical eye.
Champagne: I will probably not have much time to watch from the course. I try and make a little time to visit the practice areas to watch the players working on their games. From a teaching standpoint, I enjoy analyzing practice habits and swing techniques from the top players in the world. I always look for thoughts and ideas of how the best get better.
PGA.com: Last question for you, David. What -- in your eyes -- would make for a perfect tournament week at Firestone?
Champagne: Well, it would be perfect if I was playing in the tournament but all joking aside, I am looking forward to Firestone hosting another World Golf Championship. The act of helping local charities and being part of the camaraderie amongst the Firestone members and staff always makes for a great week. We look forward to crowning another great champion and hope everyone involved has a safe, productive, and fun filled experience. Accomplishing all of the above mentioned would make for a perfect week.