The strength of the field at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational has resulted in a number of high-profile pairings over the first two rounds at Firestone, writes WADE PRETORIUS.
Two-time defending US Open champion Brooks Koepka joins Brandon Stone for the first 36 holes in Akron as the young South African makes his debut in this select field event. Stone’s win at the Scottish Open has seen a turn in his confidence after his dominant final round showing a few weeks ago.
Now, Stone will get to test the improvements he made to his game in one of the early starts on Thursday with powerful Koepka, who surprisingly missed the cut last week at the RBC Canadian Open.
A win at the Dimension Data Pro-Am saw Jaco Ahlers earn a spot in the lucrative field and now he’ll have a few extra eyes on his swing after being paired with reigning PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year, Xander Schauffele. The 24-year-old, T13 last year on debut, is in impressive form with T6-T2 in last two majors.
Branden Grace is joined by Charley Hoffman with both players needing a strong week as they sit in the 80s in the season-long FedExCup. That similarity is mirrored with the American sitting one place above Grace in the world rankings.
The South African will look to reignite his good season at Firestone, a venue where he has decent form with a top 10 in 2016 followed a top 30 in 2017.
Another South African who fared well in 2016 was Charl Schwartzel, currently 94th in the FedExCup, who finished in a share of seventh place after a final round 70.
The one-time Major champion, paired with fellow Green Jacket holder Sergio Garcia, arrives on the back of a top 10 last week as he looks to put another solid tournament together with results not matching his ball-striking of late.
Pat Perez and Louis Oosthuizen start late on Thursday as the top-ranked Saffa looks to build on good form over the past few weeks. The best result over his past four starts was a top-five finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, before two top 20s at the Memorial and US Open while a cold putter forced the 34-year-old to settle for a top 30 finish at Carnoustie.
Saffa tee times:
15:30 – Brandon Stone, Brooks Koepka
15:40 – Xander Schauffele, Jaco Ahlers
16:30 – Branden Grace, Charley Hoffman
16:50 – Charl Schwartzel, Sergio Garcia
20:20 – Louis Oosthuizen, Pat Perez
Selected pairings to watch:
16:10 – Hideki Matsuyama, Rory McIlroy
16:20 – Tiger Woods, Jason Day
19:10 – Haotong Li, Rickie Fowler
20:10 – Dustin Johnson, Francesco Molinari
Photo: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images