Monday was the first available day of practice for the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, though the course was quiet as most players will wait until today to take their first crack at the South Course.
Many foreign and rookie players to Firestone made the trip a day early. Rory McIlroy also appeared earlier in the week than many of his top-ranked counterparts after a frustrating two months.
McIlroy is ranked No. 3 in the world and is ninth in the FedEx Cup standings, although those rankings have been hanging by a thread after the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland missed the cut at three of his past five events, including the U.S. Open and the Players Championship. He then finished 8-over par at the British Open, 15 shots off the lead.
McIlroy is trying to play as much golf as he possibly can to get through the slump and let things work themselves out.
“I haven’t played great but I’m working on some really good things and I’ve seen some good signs in practice,” he said. “It’s about taking it from practice onto the course, that’s the difficult part. The more I play and the most holes I get and the more tournaments I play in, hopefully it’ll just keep coming along.”
McIlroy played the front nine on Monday. Considering the Bridgestone Invitational is usually played in the dead heat of late July or early August, the rainstorms of the past week have made the course a bit slower than in past years.
“It’s good, pretty soft,” he said. “As soft as I’ve ever seen it, but obviously, it’ll get a little firmer once there’s not as much rain.”
This year’s field includes 21 players who are making their first attempt at Firestone and in a tournament with such a strong field.
Robert Rock of England has watched this tournament every year on his television at home, waiting for his own chance.
Firestone “is what I’ve seen watching it over the years, really, so I wanted to turn up and see it for myself,” he said. “I don’t know how many times I’ve watched this tournament, but it’s been a lot. I narrowly missed the last two years so it’s good to finally be here.”
Rock says he chooses his tournaments by the course, and Firestone has been on his checklist for a while.
“Tournaments that stay at the same course make a big difference,” Rock said. “Everybody knows what’s coming and what to expect. You have something to look forward to instead of saying ‘Well where are we going? What’s that course like?’ I’ve wanted to be here.”
Marcel Siem of France said he’s ready to take on “The Monster,” Firestone’s par-5 No. 16 that plays as one of the longest holes in the world.
“Apparently, 75 guys have hit it on the green in two, but I don’t know if that’s true or not,” he said. “We’ll just give it a go. It’s fun to hear stuff like that — 670 yards. I don’t know if we have a hole like that on the European Tour.
“If I get the chance [to hit it 2 strokes], I’m definitely going to do it. Everybody’s talking about [that hole] already. Nicolas Colsaerts, he hits it a bit farther than me, he has the big chance to do it.”
Siem says the European players might be in for a treat after playing on poor surfaces all year on the European Tour. These greens and fairways will be a night-and-day difference from what has been the norm overseas, “soft and bumpy.”
“We got really unlucky with the weather and have had some improper surfaces, so this will be different for us,” he said. “Out here, it’s super quick and so true. Three or four feet before the hole, you know if it’s in or not.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.