(Reuters) - Tiger Woods, still tournament rusty after spending much of this year recovering from back surgery, could not have picked a better venue as he strives to turn his season around at this week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
Woods has won the elite World Golf Championships (WGC) crown a record eight times at the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio and would dearly love to add a ninth in his bid to qualify for the PGA Tour’s lucrative season-ending FedExCup playoffs.
The former world number one has just three events remaining to advance from his lowly 215th spot in the FedExCup points list and book his place among the top 125 who will tee off in the playoff opener, The Barclays tournament from Aug. 21-24.
“I am excited to be back,” Woods, who won last year’s Bridgestone Invitational title by a commanding seven shots, told reporters on Wednesday while preparing for Thursday’s opening round. “I have had some pretty good memories here.
“I’ve had some great rounds and certainly some great moments on this property, so any time I come back here, it’s always a good, solid feeling. I am looking forward to this week.”
Asked whether Firestone would be a perfect test of how his game was progressing, Woods replied: “Not necessarily, because I have come into this event not playing great and I’ve come into this event playing great.
“But there are certain golf courses - here, Torrey (Pines), Bay Hill, even Augusta (National) - no matter what my form is going into that week at those particular venues, I just somehow feel good.
“It doesn’t mean I am going to play well but I still have that feeling. Unfortunately one year, I didn’t play very well here, I finished second to last, but over the years I have finished first eight times. That’s a pretty good stat.”
Since undergoing back surgery in late March, Woods has competed in just two PGA Tour events - missing the cut at last month’s Quicken Loans National and finishing 69th at the British Open 10 days ago.
Needing to show form if he is to qualify for the playoffs and persuade U.S. captain Tom Watson to select him for the Sept. 26-28 Ryder Cup in Scotland, Woods has set his sights on victories at Firestone and next week at the PGA Championship.
“I would like to win these two events and not have to worry about anything,” said the 14-times major champion. “That’s the plan, that’s the mindset, that’s the focus and we’ll see how it falls after these few weeks.
“I am so far out of it (FedExCup and Ryder Cup points) right now that I need to play well to get myself there, get myself into the playoffs and hopefully play all four weeks (of the playoffs.”
Asked to pinpoint the components of his game which most urgently needed improvement, Woods smiled in reply: “Everything. Everything needs to get a little bit better.
“I just need to be a bit more efficient in what I am doing. My good shots are still really good, my bad shots need to be in positions where I know I should miss (greens with) the golf ball instead of places where I have been missing it.
“I just need to keep progressing. This is only my third tournament back since back surgery ... it takes a little bit of time. I still need to get much stronger than I am now, and I still need to get much more explosive than I am now.”
Woods, who has not triumphed on the PGA Tour since his victory at Firestone last year capped a five-win season, is scheduled to tee off in Thursday’s opening round with U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer of Germany.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue