Friday 28 November 2014

Tiger hopes happy hunting ground can put FedEx Cup in his sights

Phil Casey

Published 31/07/2014 | 02:30

Tiger Woods has won eight times at the Firestone Country Club. Photo: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Tiger Woods has won eight times at the Firestone Country Club. Photo: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Former world No 1 Tiger Woods was in typically bullish mood as he looked ahead to the two events which will define his season.

Woods has played just two tournaments since undergoing back surgery in March, missing the cut in the Quicken Loans National and finishing 69th in the Open Championship.

The 14-time Major winner was asked at Royal Liverpool what an acceptable finishing position would be and replied "first," but after a promising opening 69 faded to his worst ever 72-hole finish in a Major.

But that did not stop the 38-year-old from having the same goals in this week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club and next week's US PGA Championship at Valhalla, two venues where he has enjoyed previous success.

CRUISING

Woods has won eight times in Akron, threatening to shoot a 59 in the second round last year before carding a 61 and cruising to a seven-shot victory, while he won the US PGA at Valhalla in 2000 after a three-hole play-off with Bob May.

However, he needs to reproduce similar kinds of results in the next fortnight simply to make the FedEx Cup play-offs and give himself four extra tournaments to boost his case for one of US captain Tom Watson's three Ryder Cup wild cards.

"I would like to win these next two weeks and not have to worry about anything and that's the plan. That's the mindset and the focus and we will see how it feels after these weeks," Woods told a pre-tournament press conference in Akron.

"I am so far out of it right now that I need to play well and get myself into the play-offs and, hopefully, play all four weeks. Unfortunately I have been in this position before (after injury in 2011) and did not make it. Hopefully, this go around will be a little better."

Woods is 215th in the FedEx Cup standings and needs to climb into the top 125. Finishing third this week and next would probably do the trick. Much worse than that and he would miss out.

At least Woods could not be in a better place, his eight victories in Akron allowing him to again match Sam Snead's PGA Tour record for wins in an event. Snead won the Greater Greensboro Open eight times. Woods also won at Bay Hill for the eighth time in 2013.

"To try to win the ninth there is no secret formula, just go out there and play well," added Woods, who said he had been practising every day since returning from the British Open.

"There are certain venues like here, Torrey Pines and Bay Hill where no matter what my form is going into that week, I just somehow feel good. It does not mean I am going to play well, but I still have that feeling.

"This is only my third event back after back surgery and that's something that I have had to keep in mind. I've been in this situation before and it takes a bit of time.

"The knee (injury) is so much easier to come back from. The back injury was way more debilitating than I thought. People I have talked to who had the same procedure can't understand how I am back playing so soon but I need to get much stronger and more explosive than I am now."

Woods did reveal that the back surgery he underwent on March 31, which ruled him out of the Masters for the first time in his career and the US Open, did have at least one benefit.

SHORTEN

"We've been trying to shorten my swing over the years and the perfect way to do it is just have back surgery," he joked. "I can't turn that far."

Elsewhere, high points totals rather than low scores will be the order of the day in this week's Barracuda Championship.

The tournament – formerly known as the Reno-Tahoe Open – is the only one on the PGA Tour to use a Modified Stableford format, which allocates points based on the number of strokes taken at each hole.

Eight points are awarded for an albatross, five for an eagle, two for a birdie, zero for a par, minus one for a bogey and minus three for a double bogey or worse.

Ireland's Padraig Harrington will be in Reno and has been paired with fellow former US PGA winners David Toms and Davis Love for the first two rounds.

THE BRIDGESTONE INVITATIONAL, LIVE, SKY SPORTS 4, 6.30pm

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