AKRON, Ohio – When it comes to his game, Tiger Woods isn’t in the best place.
It happens that the world’s best golfers tee off Thursday in a place that’s been very, very good to Woods in the past.
It’s not exactly home-course advantage, but Woods opens the World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club not just as the defending champion but an eight-time champion. For a long time at this August staple of the PGA Tour, everybody’s been chasing Woods.
Now, Tiger is trying to find Tiger, too.
The WGC-Bridgestone marks just his third tournament since March 31 back surgery. He missed three months and two majors before returning at the National in late June, where he missed the cut. He made the cut at the British Open two weeks ago, but Woods admitted he’s very much still trying to find full health and full confidence.
"There’s no comparison between a knee and a back," Woods said of recent injury issues. "The knee is so much easier to deal with and rehab from than coming back from a back (surgery). I’ve had Achilles injuries, obviously knee surgeries, but this thing is just way different. It’s way more debilitating than I thought.
"Everything fell into place. I was able to get back (for the British Open). But now it’s just continuing, and I still need to get much stronger than I am now, and I still need to get much more explosive than I am now. That’s just (going to take) time."
Woods joked that he’s "been trying to shorten (his) swing for years, and the way to do that was to have back surgery."
But if Woods can feel like himself anywhere, it may be here.
In 16 career events at Firestone, Woods has won a total of $11,275,525. He was 15-under here last year, a romp highlighted by a second-round 61, which tied his own course record. The second-best number posted that day was 66; Woods finished seven shots clear of two players tied for second place.
That was Woods’ last win. His highest finish in 2014 was a tie for 25th in his last WGC event, the Cadillac Championship.
So, if there really is some Tiger Magic here, he’ll gladly take it.
"I’ve come into this event not playing great and I’ve come into it playing great, but it’s one of those golf courses where I always feel comfortable," he said. "There are certain venues, whether it’s here or Torrey Pines or Bay Hill, I somehow see the sight lines. This place hasn’t (changed). I still feel comfortable seeing the sight lines and playing the venue.
"This golf course is just amazing. It’s very forward, right in front of you.
"To try and win a ninth this week, there’s no secret formula. It’s just go out and play well. There are no hidden secrets here. Just go out there and play well."
Woods said he’s "always healed fast," but the goal of getting back for the British Open — and being ready to contend here at Firestone and next week at the PGA Championship — pushed him through his rehab. He spoke Wednesday in a relaxed, realistic tone. He wants to play well, contend, and ultimately make the FedEx Cup Playoffs and the U.S. Ryder Cup team. For that to happen, though, he has to play much better than he has this year, before or after surgery. He has to prove he can still score with the world’s best, and he even has to prove that to himself.
"I’m only six rounds in," he said.
History says, though, that the next four could be very interesting.