WGC field draws some surprises


Several American golfers managed to get into the field at Firestone.

AKRON (AP) — The World Golf Championships usually include a couple of players that make people wonder how on earth they qualified for such an elite event that distributes $8 million in prize money.

The Bridgestone Invitational is no exception.

James Kingston of South Africa was playing alone up the ninth fairway when a couple of Americans stopped to watch. Only when the caddie set his bag down were they able to figure out who he was. Kingston won twice this year in South African and was runner-up at the Scottish Open, which is why he is No. 71 in the world.

The bigger surprise is what some of the Americans are doing here.

J.J. Henry has not had a top-five finish since winning in Hartford two years ago. He is having a tough year at No. 185 in the FedEx Cup standings, and his world ranking has plummeted to No. 272, the worst of anyone in the 80-man field.

Not much better off is Chris DiMarco, who has made only eight cuts in 19 starts on the PGA Tour, has yet to qualify for a major this year and is now No. 207 in the world. Then there’s Vaughn Taylor, who also has fallen on hard times after coping with allergies and vertigo last year that caused him to sink to No. 178.

All of them have the Ryder Cup to thank for their tee time this week. Six players from the 2006 team that got clobbered at The K Club in Ireland are no longer in the top 50 in the world, but they are eligible for this World Golf Championship.

“I’m on a free pass this week,” Taylor said. “But I still need some good results.”

It’s not just the Americans.

Darren Clarke is playing in the United States for the first time since the PGA Championship last year. He won the BMW Asian Open in April, his first victory since his wife Heather died of cancer in 2006, and he has shown steady improvement.

Even so, he is No. 105 in the world and a long way off from making his sixth Ryder Cup team.

One week could change everything. Clarke won at Firestone in 2003 by four shots and considers this one of his favorite U.S. courses. A victory this week could move him from No. 33 on the European points list to as high as No. 7.

“It’s always good to come back here because I’ve always enjoyed it here,” Clarke said.

“And we are lucky to be here. But that was always set out that way as part of the qualifying process. It’s a big two weeks for me if I want a chance to get myself on the team.”

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