Tiger Woods finds out over the next two weeks if his season is over or just getting started.
The first stop is the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone in Akron, Ohio, where Woods is the defending champion and eight-time winner. After that, he heads to Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., for the PGA Championship, where he won in 2000 on his way to an unprecedented sweep of the majors.
At stake is a chance to extend a season already cut short by back surgery.
“I would like to win these two events and not have to worry about anything,” Woods said. “That’s the plan. That’s the mindset. That’s the focus. We'll see how it falls after these few weeks. I’m so far out of it right now that I need to play well to … get myself into the playoffs and ultimately – hopefully – play all four weeks.”
It’s hard to believe that just one year ago, Woods won at Firestone by 7 shots for his fifth victory of the year.
Not much has gone his way since then, mainly because of back pain that eventually led to surgery on March 31 and kept him out for three months. The Bridgestone Invitational will be only his third tournament since his return a month ago at Congressional, where he missed the cut.
And during his time at home, his position in two key standings plunged.
Woods is No. 215 in the FedEx Cup — only the top 125 qualifying for the season-ending playoffs.
And he is No. 70 in the Ryder Cup standings, so far away from being among the nine automatic qualifiers after next week that even if he were to win at Firestone, he wouldn’t even crack the top 20 in the standings.
At least he is playing courses that bring happy memories.
Woods has been so dominant at Firestone that he averages $10,138 for every hole he has played in competition dating to 1997. His victory last year was the third time he had won at Firestone by at least seven shots.
But that’s because he was playing well.
Firestone also is the course where he finished 30 shots out of the lead in 2010, a week before he hooked up with Sean Foley, his third swing coach as a pro.
“There’s no secret formula,” he said. “It’s just go out and play well. This golf course is right in front of you. There’s no hidden secrets out here. You’ve just got to go out there and play well.”
Different from previous injuries is that Woods said he returned to competition not much longer after he was fit enough to play. After various knee injuries, he worked himself into shape by playing a lot of golf at home. This time, he only got in a couple of rounds.
Missing the cut at Congressional was satisfying because he knew he was pain-free. Finishing in 69th place at the British Open — his worst position at a major when making the cut — was more of a disappointment. Woods said he is progressing, though it starts with eliminating mistakes.
“My good shots are still really good,” he said. “My bad shots need to be in positions where I know I should miss the golf ball, instead of places where I have been missing it.”
WORLD GOLF CHAMPIONSHIPS: Bridgestone Invitational. Today through Sunday in Akron, Ohio. TV: Golf Channel (today and Friday, 12:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m.) and CBS (Saturday and Sunday, 1-6 p.m.).
PGA TOUR: Barracuda Championship. Today through Sunday in Reno, Nev. TV: Golf Channel (today through Saturday, 5:30 p.m.; Sunday, 6 p.m.).
CHAMPIONS TOUR: 3M Championship. Friday through Sunday in Blaine, Minn. TV: Golf Channel (Friday, 11 a.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 2 p.m.).
LPGA TOUR: Off until Aug. 7.
WEB.COM TOUR: Stonebrae Classic. Today through Sunday in Hayward, Calif. TV: none.
Players to watch
McIlroy is playing in the Bridgestone Invitational, his first start since his wire-to-wire win two weeks ago at the British Open.
Woodland, a former University of Kansas player, has struggled recently after three straight top-20 finishes in May.
TOM PERNICE JR.
Pernice, a Kansas City native, is the defending champion in the 3M Championship. He won last year with a birdie on the last hole.