Bridgestone Invitational starts Ryder Cup search

This week isn’t any old week on the golf calendar, it’s a World Golf Championship.

This week isn’t any old week on the golf calendar, it’s a World Golf Championship. The four WGC events may not hold the same lucrative status or prestige as the major championships but they are still coveted for their world ranking points, Fed Ex Cup points and significant prize fund. However, the most premium incentive, for Europeans and Americans anyway, are the precious Ryder Cup points on offer.

As the Ryder Cup edges closer week by week, every tournament bears huge importance for players teetering tantalisingly in and out of automatic selection for their captain’s teams. As the US team’s nine automatic picks are finalised after the USPGA Championship next week, it and the Bridgestone Invitational are make-or-break tournaments for several high-profile stars.

One of those stars happens to be the biggest of them all, Tiger Woods. The 14-time major winner currently sits a lowly 70th in the American standings and will bank on a pick from Captain Tom Watson if he fails to secure automatic qualification.

In addition, due to injuries and indifferent form this season, Woods needs top-3 finishes in both events to secure an automatic place. Even with his enormous natural ability, that looks to be most improbable. Woods has struggled to string four consistent rounds together all year, leading many to believe that his powers are finally fading into the oblivion.

Mickelson, McDowell look for win

His record at Firestone, the home of the Bridgestone, is sensational with a record eight victories to his name. Firestone has always been a happy hunting ground for Tiger but he will need to exorcise the ghosts of his miserable form this year if he is to turn it around at this crucial stage.

Another big name sweating over whether or not he will make the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles is Phil Mickelson. Since winning the Open Championship last summer, Big Phil has failed to sparkle and finds himself 11th in the standings.

Having appeared in nine previous Ryder Cups, Mickelson’s experience is unrivalled and the consensus remains that even if he were to miss out on an automatic place, Watson would be foolish to omit him from his team. However, Phil has never been one to rest on his laurels and knows that he will have to prove that he is in fighting form if he wants to be at Gleneagles come September.

On the European side of things, there are also several established stars scrambling to make Paul McGinley’s team. Since a lot of Europeans primarily ply their trade in the USA, the points system is split into a European Points List and a World Points List. McGinley’s team is looking very strong already, with Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson appearing to have sealed their spot.

However, there remains a band of talented individuals on the cusp of proceedings and very much in need of a high-placed finish this week to boost their chances.

The tension rises on the green

Ian Poulter is very much in a similar position to Phil Mickelson. He has struggled for form this year but possesses a wealth of experience in the Ryder Cup with four appearances, winning three.

Poulter has been Europe’s Mr Ryder Cup in recent years, proving an integral part of the team and inspiring the Miracle of Medinah in 2012 which would seem to suggest a captain’s pick is guaranteed should he miss an automatic berth but McGinley will know it would be controversial to pick Poulter on his past merits alone and needs him to perform in the coming weeks to save him from an impossible decision.

Graeme McDowell is also sweating over his involvement in this year’s Ryder Cup, despite proving himself as one of the world’s best players.

McDowell sunk the winning putt the last time it was held on home soil and is currently in fine form having registered top-10 finishes in his last four appearances—the Canadian Open, the Open, the French Open and the Irish Open – but with Ian Poulter, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Francesco Molinari all currently battling with the Northern Irishman for a place, he will know that continuing that decent form for the next couple of weeks may be the only chance he has to make the grade.

Summer is usually golf’s most exciting season as it features the US Open, The Open and the US PGA along with the Bridgestone but with a string of top professionals battling for Ryder Cup qualification, the drama and tension are sure to hit dizzying heights.

What do you think? Who will triumph? Have your say in the comments section below.