The South Course at Firestone Country Club is open for business, and on Monday an assortment of golfers checked in to work on their swings.
The 2016 World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational is set to start play Thursday with 61 golfers at the venerable Akron venue.
Australian Matt Jones is entered in the field, and on Monday he was at the driving range between 7:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. preparing to play in the event that is scheduled to pay out $1.62 million to the winner on Sunday.
“I did some work with my coach who is in Australia,” Jones said. “That is why I got out here early to FaceTime him to try and straighten some stuff out. I hit some balls, did some chipping, had some breakfast and some lunch, and did some putting.
“This course is tough. It’s a battle. The rough is normally thick, the greens are firm and fast and with the forecast we have this week, I’m assuming it’s going to be much the same this year.
“I want to be able to control my golf ball. I want to manage the ball around the golf course and give myself as many opportunities as I can [to score]. If I do get in trouble, I need to limit the errors and get the ball in the hole as soon as I can.”
Australian Jason Day and American Bubba Watson were two of the higher profile golfers who joined Jones on the range. Day is ranked No. 1 in the Official World Golf Rankings and Watson is No. 6.
“The course always looks good here,” Watson said. “It is always in great shape. It is a tough test of golf. We always look forward to coming back and playing here. Just like every other year, this course is perfect. The greens look great and the rough looks just as good as normal.”
Watson is set to make his seventh appearance at Firestone after placing second last year, two strokes behind Ireland’s Shane Lowry, who won the tournament with an 11-under 269.
Watson said Monday he went through his regular routine, which includes “checking green speeds.”
“I hit a few balls just to stay sharp or try to get sharp,” Watson said. “I practice on the greens and see if the course is harder, and by that I am saying if the course hasn’t had rain lately, if it has had rain or if it is going to have rain. I want to see if the course has soft conditions or firm conditions.”
Lowry, Day and Americans Billy Hurley III and Jordan Spieth are scheduled to meet with the media on Tuesday. Australian Adam Scott and Americans Dustin Johnson and Davis Love III are slated to meet with the media on Wednesday.
The PGA Tour announced Monday that Hurley and Kiradech Aphibarnrat were the last two golfers to qualify for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
Hurley earned his spot in Akron for the first time by winning the Quicken Loans National on Sunday for his first career PGA Tour title.
Aphibarnrat received an invitation based on being ranked No. 49 in the Official World Golf Rankings.
The top 50 in the rankings qualify to play in Akron along with 2015 U.S. and International Presidents Cup team members and winners from select tournaments.
A group of 77 golfers qualified for this year’s Bridgestone, but several elected to play in other tournaments overseas.
Chris Reimer, the PGA Tour’s director of communications, said the field of 61 is the smallest in Akron since 2000 and 2001, when 37 golfers teed off each year. The field was been between 72 and 85 golfers between 2002-2015. The field was 85 in 2003.
No parade for Day
Day and his wife, Ohioan Ellie Harvey Day, are Cavaliers fans who have been spotted courtside at Quicken Loans Arena multiple times over the past two seasons.
When asked Monday if he made it to Cleveland last week for the parade that attracted 1 million fans to celebrate the NBA championship team, Day said: “I couldn’t make the parade. I heard it was crazy. Fifty years too long.”
Ellie Day made headlines earlier this season when she was taken on a stretcher to the hospital after Cavs star LeBron James tumbled into her floor seat and landed hard on top of her while chasing a loose ball. Day was bruised but ultimately all right.
Top talent in tees off
The field includes 20 of the top 25 men in the Official World Golf Rankings.
Included in the mix are seven of the world’s top 10 — Day, Spieth, Johnson, Watson, Rickie Fowler, Scott and Justin Rose.
Scott (2011) and Lowry (2015) are two past Bridgestone champions. … There will be 14 countries represented this year with 29 international players and 32 players hailing from the United States. … Sixteen golfers will make their Bridgestone debuts.
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MBeavenABJ.