Tiger Woods confirmed he’s finally ready to roll at this week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational after 11 weeks on the sidelines since limping out of the Players Championship.
Woods, speaking at a press conference after his Tuesday morning practice round at Firestone, admitted his game feels sharper than ever since spending time with his coach Sean Foley in recent weeks.
“I’ve been hitting it more solid than I have in the past,” said Woods, who has dropped to an unthinkable 28th in the world.
“Some of the things I'm working on with Sean are starting to make sense. I can see what he's trying to get me to do - I’m certainly here to try and win a golf tournament and I'm just focused on that.”
The former five-year World No.1 also revealed his knee and left Achilles felt so good that he was hoping to tee it up at last week’s Greenbrier Classic, before ultimately making the last-minute decision to take an extra week off.
“It was borderline whether I was going to play last week,” said Woods, who has dropped to an unthinkable 28th in the world.
“I was close to being ready to go but I gave myself some more days to get my body attuned and I feel great now.
“I’ve had some good practice sessions of late and just need to tee it up and do it on Thursday.”
Woods appeared to look at ease in practice on Tuesday, striding the fairways with his boyhood friend and new temporary caddie Byron Bell, showing no signs of agony or favouring his left side when playing shots.
He’s also been buoyed by the prospect of partnering good friend and Open champion Darren Clarke for the opening two rounds.
Woods may have lost numerous fans around the world and a superman-like status that was usually enough to scare his opponents from getting anywhere near him on a Sunday leaderboard, but the game of golf needs him back and more importantly standing on the winner’s rostrum.
He may not win this week, he may not even come close; but few can forget Woods’ relationship with this week’s monster Firestone track measuring 7,400 yards.
With seven victories to his name from 1999 to his last PGA Tour victory in 2009, including his record 11-stroke victory in 2000 when he stuck his approach to within 2-feet at the last among an illumination of flashing cameras in near-total darkness, Woods knows the Akron course as well as his left Achilles.
Defending champion Hunter Mahan returns to the scene of his two-shot victory over compatriot Ryan Palmer.
Despite ranking eighth in greens in regulation this season, Mahan has looked out of sorts in recent weeks with no top-25 finishes in his last five starts – but the three-time PGA Tour champion will fancy his chances of bouncing back this week having finished in the top-10 three of the last four years.
Luke Donald and Lee Westwood will be looking to bounce back after missing the cut at the Open Championship, while World No.5 Rory McIlroy confirmed he’s excited to be back in America for the first timesince lifting the US Open.
“It’s going to be great to see the American fans who gave me such an amazing reception when I won the US Open,” said McIlroy, who finished tied ninth last year.
“I’ve not managed to win a WGC event yet, and it would be a fantastic double to have this title alongside the US Open trophy.
“It will be great to get myself into contention in Akron and shoot a few good rounds - that would certainly give me some confidence going into the US PGA Championship, where I have done well the last couple of years.”
Firestone Country Club (South Course), Akron, Ohio
Thursday August 4 to Sunday August 7
Par-70; 7,400 yards
$8.5 million (winner: $1.4 million)
Hunter Mahan -12
Most wins: 7 Tiger Woods (1999, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009)
Lowest score to par: -21 Tiger Woods (2000)
Lowest aggregate: 259 Tiger Woods (2000)
Did you know?
Up until 1998, there was a tournament called the World Series of Golf, which was also played at Firestone Country Club for many years, and sponsored by NEC. It was founded as a four man invitational event in 1962, but later became a PGA Tour event, and eventually one of the leading events on the Tour.
Thursday: Sky Sports 1 from 7pm
Friday: Sky Sports 2 from 7pm
Saturday: Sky Sports 1 from 5pm
Sunday: Sky Sports 1 from 5.30pm