Tiger back in Akron to defend title

Tiger Woods has won 8 titles at the World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational.

ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images

AKRON, Ohio – The King of Akron has returned to Akron. 

LeBron James has been around, too.

Tiger Woods arrived at Firestone Country Club to defend his title at the World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational on Wednesday, a day before he tees it up alongside U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer in the tournament’s first round. 

Woods has won eight titles here at the WGC-Bridgestone. In 16 career tournaments at Firestone, Woods has made a cool $11,275,525.

James is scheduled to be in Akron this weekend for a TV taping, a house refurbishment project set up by the LeBron James Family Foundation. He’s been around his hometown sporadically since returning from the World Cup in Brazil two weeks ago, filming a commercial for Beats headphones at his high school alma mater on July 17, six days after the four-time NBA MVP announced he’d be returning to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers next season. 

It was a decision the sports world — Woods included — was awaiting. 

"I was probably as surprised as anybody when it all went down," Woods said. "But you could see the cards kind of falling into place…nobody was doing anything. Everyone (was) waiting for LeBron’s decision. 

"For him to have grown up here and obviously play here for his first seven (NBA) years, I can see the attraction where he’d want to come back. He already accomplished what he wanted to accomplish. He set out to win championships, and he did. Four straight NBA Finals appearances is awfully impressive. He won two, but people forget he went to four Finals (in four years with the Miami Heat)." 

Two of the world’s most recognizable athletes and most visible Nike endorsers, Woods and James also have something else in common: Both were born on Dec. 30, Woods in 1975 and James in 1984. 

When Forbes released its list of the world’s highest-paid athletes earlier this summer, James was third and Woods was sixth.

James makes a reported $10 million per year from Nike, while Woods makes twice that. Woods slipped from the top spot on the Forbes list a year ago due to the end of his relationship with Electronic Arts, which had produced 16 golf video games with Woods’ name attached. 

Woods, who’s playing in just his third tournament since recovering from back surgery, said he empathizes with James "not having much of a break" and can understand the appeal of playing at home.

"As a player who plays an individual sport with no home affiliation, it’s different for me," Woods said. "We don’t play half our season at home. It’s always on the go.

"I can understand him coming back here and wanting to be home and wanting to play in front of the home fans. Cleveland hasn’t, unfortunately, won championships in a very long time. It would be pretty huge if LeBron was able to do it."

During the 2012 U.S. Open, when James was busy winning his first NBA title, Woods said of James: "It’s fun to just sit back and watch. I think that we should all look at what he’s done and just sit back and watch one of the greatest players to ever play."