August 01, 2018

Woods Makes His Return To Firestone

AKRON, Ohio – Tiger Woods has returned to Firestone Country Club this week for the $10 million World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, one of his favorite stops on the PGA Tour.

It almost didn’t happen.

Woods qualified after securing a tie for sixth in the Open Championship at Carnoustie, climbing 21 spots to No. 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking. The top 50 received automatic invites in the field of 73.

“That was sort of a goal of mine,” he said Wednesday, prior to a nine-hole practice round with Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson. “I’m excited to get back here. It wasn’t exactly easy.”

Returning to Firestone was important to Woods for many reasons. Not only has he won eight times on the South Course, tied with Sam Snead (Greater Greensboro Open) for the most Tour victories in the same event, Woods has also won eight times at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The World Golf Championship-Bridgestone Invitational is moving to Memphis in 2019 after a 20-year run.

“I’ve always been a fan of this golf course,” said Woods, who played Firestone as a teenager with his father. “It’s very simple and straight-forward. I knew it was going to move and that’s why I tried so hard to get back into this event. It means something special to me. It’s sad to see it leave, but I certainly understand.”

Woods’ triumphs on the tree-lined, 7,400, par-70 layout have come in 2013 – the most recent of his 79 PGA Tour Tour titles – and in 2009, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2001, 2000 and 1999.

The most memorable was in 2000, when Woods fired 64-61-67-67 to finish at 21-under 259. He birdied the 72nd hole — the par-4 18th — in the dark, flagging an 8-iron approach shot from 168 yards two feet from the cup to win by 11 strokes.

The crowd went crazy.

“To be able to stuff it in the dark was something special,” he said.

Of Woods’ 79 victories, second all-time to Snead (82), 18 have come in WGC events. Dustin Johnson owns the second-most with five.

In 20 starts at Firestone, Woods has banked $25.5 million, which would rank No. 34 on the PGA Tour career money list.

In 12 official starts this year, Woods has produced six top-12 showings. He ranks No. 47 in the FedExCup point standings and No. 20 in the U.S. Ryder Cup rankings.

Woods has a busy stretch ahead.

Next week, he will play in the final major of the year, the PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis. Earlier this week, he committed to the first two legs of the four-tournament FedExCup Playoffs, starting with The Northern Trust (Aug. 23-26) at Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, New Jersey. Woods will also play in the Dell Technologies Championship (Aug. 31-Sept. 3) at TPC Boston in Norton, Mass. The top 70 on the points list advance to the third event, the BMW Championship (Sept. 6-9), followed by the Tour Championship (Sept. 20-23).

The following week (Sept. 24-30), he will be at the Ryder Cup outside Paris. Woods has already been named a vice-captain by Jim Furyk, but could qualify on points – the top eight after the PGA Championship — or he could receive one of four Captain’s picks.

Woods’ preference is playing vice-captain.

“My job is to get on the team,” he said.

Asked about his chances, he said, “What would be the word? … trending.”

No matter what happens, the next two months will be hectic. Fortunately, after a strong start this year, Woods met with his team to reassess his schedule and formulated a training plan to help him prepare for the long physical and mental grind.

“I’m physically fit enough to get through this schedule,” said the 42-year-old Woods, who has endured four back surgeries since 2013. “But I also want to play well and win tournaments through this. I feel like my body is good. I need to keep it that way.”

Woods’ last appearance at Firestone was in 2014, when he withdrew during the final round with a back injury.

“My game has gotten better and better,” he said of 2018. “Good enough to where I feel like I can win again.”

He almost did at the Valspar Championship, tying for second. Two weeks ago at Carnoustie, he led with eight holes remaining.

“As I said, it was going to sting for a while, and it certainly does because I had a great chance at it,” said Woods. “I played myself into a great position. My game plan played myself right back into the lead. So that part, I was very positive about. But just the way I made a couple mistakes there at 11 and 12 ended up costing me the tournament.”

Woods helped boost viewership on NBC and The Golf Channel, as the Open received its highest ratings since 2000 when he won at St. Andrews. Sunday’s final round earned a 5.0, the largest figure since 2006, when Woods won at Royal Liverpool.

Following the Open, Woods took a family vacation in Switzerland, where they hiked and hung out. Wednesday he reiterated how special it was to have his daughter, Sam, and son, Charlie, watch him compete at Carnoustie.

“They saw how much I was grinding,” he said.

Woods is paired with pal Jason Day the first two rounds at Firestone. They start Thursday on the 10th tee at 10:20 a.m. ET, and Friday on the first tee at 2:10 p.m. ET.