1. Jordan Spieth – 366 points
The just turned 22-year-old has had two weeks off to get over falling short of the Slam—and another eight weeks left to complete what could be one of golf’s most spectacular seasons. First up is Bridgestone and a chance to win his first WGC event, followed one week later by the PGA Championship. If Spieth can win at Whistling Straits, he’d join Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods as the only pros in history to win three majors in a single season. But neither Firestone nor Whistling Straits favor Spieth’s game. Both tracks require hitting a lot of fairways and greens, categories where he currently ranks 74th and 38th respectively. And since the greens are relatively flat, especially at Firestone, being a great putter is less of an advantage than it is at Augusta, Chambers Bay and St. Andrews. Bottom line, if Spieth wants to finish with a flourish, he’ll need to rework some parts of his game, something that the true greats like Hogan, Woods and Jack Nicklaus did so well throughout their careers.
2. Zach Johnson – 364 points
Johnson has some work to do if he wants to eclipse Spieth as the 2015 player of the year, but winning at Firestone, where he has three top-10s, including a T-4 in 2013, would be a good start. And the Open champion does have the stats to compete this week: he is 3rd in driving accuracy, T-34 in greens hit, T-28 in par-3 scoring average and T-7 in par-4 scoring average. The only trouble spot is that he ranks T-107 in proximity to the hole, a major disadvantage when it comes to making the requisite birdies at Firestone. Of course, if he putts like he did at St. Andrews, anything is possible.
3. Jason Day – 318.67 points
One thing you have to do at Firestone is hit fairways, and that’s the one thing that Jason Day rarely does. He currently ranks T-171 in driving accuracy, and he’s never been higher than 131 in the category in his career. He did finish T-4 at Firestone in 2011, but the rough was down that year, a stroke of luck that undoubtedly helped him. Since then he’s finished T-29 in 2012, T-53 in 2013 and withdrew after shooting 74 and 71 in 2014. He does hit his share of greens (28th) and is currently ranked 10th in scrambling and 20th in strokes gained putting, but in the history of Firestone, hitting fairways has long been the best measure of success.
4. Louis Oosthuizen – 260 points
Another player who might struggle this week, Oosthuizen heads to Bridgestone with an impressive string of majors, finishing runner-up in the last two. He ranks T-20 in greens hit, but like Day, he struggles off the tee (107 in driving accuracy) and also with the flat-stick (158 in strokes gained putting.) He’s played four times at Firestone with mixed results: 61st last year, 4th in 2012, T-37 in 2011 and T-9 in 2010.
5. Justin Rose – 248.66 points
On paper, Rose has to be considered among the favorites this week. He ranks T-18 in greens hit, and while his T-71 in driving accuracy isn’t anything to jump up and down about, he is 3rd in proximity to the hole from the rough, another stat that could give him an edge. He’s also played well at Firestone, notching four top-10s in 10 starts including a T-2 in 2007. But all those numbers aside, he also heads into Bridgestone with a hot hand, coming off a T-6 at St. Andrews and a T-4 at the Quicken Loans—where he ranked T-27 in driving accuracy on the tight Robert Trent Jones GC.
6. Marc Leishman – 217.32 points
The Aussie took two weeks off after falling short in the British Open playoff, but he’s still having a terrific year and will be looking to close it out with strong finishes over the next two weeks. Leishman played well at Firestone last year, finishing 3rd and ranking T-45 in driving accuracy, a big improvement over his overall rank of 141 in 2014. He’s fallen back to 164 in that category this year, so will have to work some magic if he hopes to be in the hunt come Sunday.
7. Danny Lee – 214.67 points
His lack of links experience led to a missed cut at the British Open, but Lee bounced back with a T-4 at the Quicken Loans, ranking 1st in fairways hit and T-8 in greens in regulation, proving he can compete at Firestone despite overall rankings of 83rd in driving accuracy and 100th in greens hit. He finished T-51 at the Bridgestone in 2009, but his play of late suggests he has a good shot to get into the top-10 this time around.
8. Bubba Watson – 186 points
Lots of folks are counting him among the favorites at the Bridgestone, but the numbers don’t point to Watson having a great week. In five previous starts, he has only finished in the top-20 once, with a T-19 in 2012. In those 20 rounds, he has been under par nine times and shot even par four times. But his over-par rounds have hurt him almost every year, which shows a lack of confidence in playing the course. One thing in his favor is that he ranks T-12 in proximity to the hole out of the rough, but that alone isn’t likely to be enough to overcome his history of struggles at Firestone.
9. David Lingmerth – 174 points
Lingmerth’s stats—43rd in driving accuracy and T-106 in greens hit—don’t bode well, but the fact that he won at Memorial, another course that requires accuracy off the tee, and finished 3rd at the Quicken Loans, where he was T-12 in driving accuracy, gives him a ray of hope. History, however, does not. In nearly forty years of play at Firestone, starting with the 1976 World Series of Golf, only three players—Lanny Wadkins in 1977, Dan Pohl in 1988 and David Duval in 1998—have won on their first visit.
10. Robert Streb – 170.67 points
Streb sneaks into our top-ten thanks to a runner-up finish at The Greenbrier and four top-20s in the last nine weeks. But like Lingmerth, he’s never played at Firestone, which will make this week a learning experience as he gears up for the FedExCup Playoffs, where he currently ranks No. 6 overall.
Inside the rankings:
*Off the GOLFstats player rankings, we determine the hottest players based on the last nine weeks on the PGA Tour. Keys to the system:
*132 points for regular tour win. All finishers in top-50 get points via a declining scale.
*198 points for a win in WGC events and the Players Championship, 264 points for a major win.
*points are lost for missed cuts, DQs or WDs: 10 for regular events, 15 for WGC and Players, 20 for majors
*All points get degraded 1/3 after weeks 4, 5 & 6, and by 2/3 for weeks 7, 8 & 9