AKRON, Ohio – In the days after squandering a chance to legitimately compete for the British Open title and slipping to finish in a tie for sixth, the world’s top-ranked golfer traded his golf clubs for swim trunks and went to the Bahamas with his children.
Even when he’s not on top of his game, it’s still good to be Tiger Woods.
He’s back to work this week. After a stop for a practice round at Oak Hill, site of next week’s PGA Championship, Woods arrived in Akron on Wednesday for the World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, a tournament Woods has won an astounding seven times.
Following a prestigious tournament he knows he can win comes an even more prestigious tournament Woods desperately wants to win to get his first major championship in five years.
“Looking back on (the British Open), as I was saying on after it, the only difference is I just didn’t get the feel of those greens the last few days,” Woods said. “I didn’t make the adjustments. That’s my fault for not making the adjustments. You’ve got to make the adjustments and I didn’t do it and consequently, I didn’t win the tournament.
“Physically I’m good. I don’t have as much energy as (his children) Sam and Charlie, but I feel pretty good.”
The 37-year-old Woods picked a good week to chase his kids and rest for a crucial stretch.
Most of the world’s top players joined Woods in taking last week off to prepare for this, the PGA and then a stretch through August and September that also includes the Barclays, the Tour Championship and, for the very best players, the Presidents Cup in Dublin, Ohio, in the first week of October.
“I think a break is important, especially with two big tournaments with a major on as the second one (coming up),” Woods said. “A lot of us are basically playing five out of six weeks. It’s a lot of golf at the end of the year, and that’s one of the reasons why some of the guys don’t play as much in the summer is to save your body and mind for this stretch, because it’s a long haul from here through the Presidents Cup.”
Woods has won four tournaments this year, most recently the Players Championship in May, and remains the game’s No. 1 player ahead of longtime rival, new No. 2 and British Open champion Phil Mickelson. Forty-eight of the top 50 players are competing at Firestone this week following the withdrawal of Hunter Mahan, who left last week’s Canadian Open for the birth of his son.
With 78 career wins, Woods still trails Sam Snead’s all-time record of 82 PGA Tour victories by four. He’s won 17 WGC events in his career but just one since 2010, the Cadillac Championship earlier this year. He won the Bridgestone in three consecutive appearances in 2006, 2007 and 2009, and after two down years tied for eighth last year.
“I’ve had times where I haven’t played well at all coming into this event and for some reason it turns it around,” Woods said. “Sometimes I’ve played great coming in and it’s continued. This is one of those courses where, for me, over the years, I just have felt very comfortable on, and I think my record has been pretty good here.”
Seven wins on any course, especially in a tournament with a prize pool of $8.5 million, would qualify as pretty good. Woods has different standards for himself, and though he visited Oak Hill en route to Firestone, he’ll tee off Thursday morning alongside 21-year old Japanese sensation Hideki Matsuyama looking not simply for a good showing but one that can help him stake his claim to the WGC-Bridgestone’s $1.4 million top prize.
It’s good to be Tiger Woods. And Woods always expects the best from himself.