Shotgun Start: Previewing the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

It's tournament time! With the final major on the horizon, the PGA Tour makes a quick stop in Akron, Ohio, for the limited-field WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at historic Firestone Country Club. Here's a tournament primer to get you prepared for the week.

The course: Have aspirations of winning the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational? Unless your name is Tiger Woods (he's won the event seven times) or you've won the tournament in the past, history isn't on your side this week. Seven of the past 13 times Firestone has hosted the tournament, a repeat winner has emerged. That doesn't bode well for guys vying for their first World Golf Championship title.

While Firestone tends to play favorites, it isn't a cakewalk. At 7,400 yards, it's the longest par 70 layout on the PGA Tour and offers a stern test with tight tree-lined fairways and large putting surfaces that force players to pick their spots. The course played as the 18th-most difficult on tour last season (70.174 stroke average) and has been inside the top 20 for the last three years, so it deserves a lot of respect.

The par-4 9th hole (494 yards) played as the most difficult hole on the course last season, but over the past 27 years, the par-4 4th has been Firestone's toughest test. At 474 yards, the hole requires a precise tee shot to the right-to-left sloping fairway. From there, players will be required to hold the elevated green that has bunkers guarding the left and right side.

At 667 yards, the par-5 16th is one of the longest holes on the PGA Tour, and ranked as the 11th-most difficult par-5 on last year's schedule. With a creek running down the right and a pond fronting the green, the hole not only requires you to be long but accurate if you want to walk away with birdie on Firestone's signature hole.

The schedule: The tournament runs Thursday-Sunday. It'll be broadcast on the Golf Channel from 2 to 6 p.m. ET on Thursday and Friday; and on CBS from 2 to 6 p.m. ET on Saturday and Sunday.

The field: As you'd expect, the limited field (78 players) World Golf Championship event is loaded with names on the Official World Golf Ranking top 10 list, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Bubba Watson and Adam Scott. Webb Simpson, who became a father again last week, is the only member of the OWGR top 10 not at Firestone. Other notables include Graeme McDowell, Hunter Mahan, Steve Stricker, Ernie Els, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson.

The video: Check out some of the memorable moments from the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational's history.

Your turn. Who are your picks for this week? Swing away!

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