Tiger Woods, the only three-time winner on the PGA Tour in 2012, returns to a comfortable venue this week when he competes in the $8.5 million WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. He has had tremendous success on the South Course, winning seven times — 1999, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009 — and has only finished out of the top five twice in 12 starts.
Woods will attempt to become the first player in PGA Tour history to win eight times on the same course. A victory would also tie Sam Snead for most wins in the same event. The latter accomplished the feat in the Greater Greensboro Open during a 27-year span on two different courses.
Before coming to Ohio, Tiger played a practice round Tuesday on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resort in South Carolina, site of next week’s PGA Championship.
“It was really soft,” Woods said Wednesday. “I don’t think it’s going to be like that during the tournament. It rained almost two inches the night before. It’s going to be long. I mean, I think it’s going to be close to 7,700 yards, and that’s a big ballpark. A lot of the holes are crosswind holes. It’s going to be a great test.”
In his last start, Woods tied for third at The Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in England. He now has five top-10 finishes in 13 appearances on the PGA Tour this year and ranks first in FedExCup points and money earnings with more than $4.6 million. Tiger also leads the circuit in scoring at 68.90.
“I felt that my plan was executed properly for the week,” he said of The Open. “I was there, right where I wanted to be. I figured I was at 6 [under par] starting the day on Sunday, and if I shoot 2 [under] I was going to be in a playoff and 3 [under], I would win outright.
“Going along until I got to 6, I missed it by a yard, and that cost me three shots. But still was right there, and then I made a few mistakes on the back nine. I was very close.”
This week’s field includes 78 players from 19 countries and there is no cut.
The South Course, designed in 1928 by Bert Wray and remodeled by Robert Trent Jones in 1960, is a sprawling, tree-lined layout that measures 7,400 yards from the tips and plays to a par-70. This marks the 36th PGA Tour event held on the course.
Woods (2000) and Jose Maria Olazabal (1990) share the course record of 61.
Firestone features 82 bunkers and three water hazards, and was ranked the 18th most difficult course out of 51 played on the PGA Tour in 2011. Last year, the toughest five holes at Firestone were: the par-4 ninth (4.164); the par-4 18th (4.158); the par-4 fourth (4.155); the par-4 13th (4.132); and the par-4 14th (4.115).
“This is one of my favorites,” Woods said. “It’s straightforward. It’s right in front of you. There’s no tricks. There’s no hidden things. It’s fun to play.”
Woods, now ranked second in the world, enters the weekend feeling confident about his game.
“I feel very comfortable where I’m at because everything is progressing,” he said. “This year I’ve taken the steps headed in the right direction and shot better scores and been more consistent. When you make changes like I’ve made in my game, it takes a little bit of time, and things are starting to click in now.”
Should Tiger win this week, he could return to No. 1 in the world rankings.
“It would be nice to get back there because obviously it meant that as far as I had dropped, to build my way back up to this point, I’ve had some wins, I’ve had some very high finishes, I’ve been consistent,” Woods said. “That’s how you get to be one of the top players in the world.”
The weather forecast looks good for the first two rounds, with temperatures in the mid- to high-80s and almost no wind. However, rain and thunderstorms could arrive on the weekend.
Woods will play the first two rounds with Branden Grace of South Africa, a three-time winner on the European Tour this year. They are scheduled to start off the first tee at 1:50 p.m. ET on Thursday and 10 a.m. ET off the 10th tee on Friday.
“I don’t know Branden at all, so it’ll be fun to get out there and chit-chat a little bit with him and get to know him,” Woods said.