Rory McIlroy enters his first tournament since 2008 without caddy JP Fitzgerald at his side at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational this week.
On the back of a tied fourth finish at The Open Championship, the Northern-Irishman has parted ways with his caddy of nine years drawing all attention to how he plays with a new man on the bag at the third World Golf Championship of the year.
Rumours have circulated that McIlroy’s close friend Harry Diamond will take the role of temporary caddy whilst he searches for a permanent fixture; however the golfing world will be more interested in McIlroy’s performance than that of his make-shift wingman.
The question on everyone’s mind is: Will we see a different Rory without Fitzgerald this week?
A blessing for the 28-year-old, perhaps, is that under the scrutiny of the world he is returning to an event that he has a previous win at, having beat Sergio Garcia by two strokes back in 2014. His own personal knowledge of how to win at this event should make fairing on his own somewhat easier.
McIlroy looks to be on the return to form after two consecutive missed cuts in perfect time though, with two courses in a row that he’s had wins on. Also making a return to form is Dustin Johnson with a tied eighth at the RBC Canadian Open on the back of no top 10s and three missed cuts in five starts. He heads to Firestone Country Club as defending champion having seen off Scott Piercy by one-shot last time out.
World-number-17 Adam Scott (2011) is the only other previous champion to return. Although the list of all previous winners is limited when you consider Tiger Woods won eight installations of this event that only began in 1999.
Qualification for this event comes from being part of the Presidents or Ryder Cup teams at the last event, being inside the OWGR top 50 or winning significant Tour events in the past year. As a result, to call the field strong would probably be an understatement. Alongside McIlroy, Johnson and Scott, the entire of the world’s top 50 ranked players enter this week.
Since the inaugural tournament in 1999, the Firestone Country Club South Course has hosted this event every year with the exception of 2002. Although its hosting actually dates back further to 1962 when this event was the World Series of Golf. It has always been a glamorous, attractive event.
The course is a testing par 70 measuring 7,400 yards. Having seen over 70 professional events, it is a tried, tested and hardened Tour course. So much so that it has earned the nickname of ‘The Monster’ originating from Arnold Palmer’s reference to the 667-yard, par five 16th hole.
Unsurprisingly the prize fund is set at a huge $9.75m with the winner’s share alone at $1.7m. All the lead runners of both the PGA Tour’s FedExCup and European Tour’s Race to Dubai are competing and, with the event sanctioned by both tours, it could prove significant heading into the latter stages of the season.
It’s an intense, star-studded line-up but as one of the biggest – if not the biggest – names in the game, all eyes will be fixed on the fairing of McIlroy in his first outing without his right-hand man.