By Jason Lloyd
Beacon Journal sports writer
Tiger Woods took a week off and vacationed in the Bahamas with his children following his sixth-place finish at the British Open. He arrived Wednesday for the Bridgestone Invitational rested, refreshed and aiming for his eighth victory at Firestone Country Club — but he has been searching for that elusive eighth win for a while now.
Woods hasn’t won at Firestone since 2009, matching his longest career drought at the course he once dominated. He also went four years between victories in 2001 and 2005, but at least last season he returned to relevance with a top-10 finish in the Bridgestone Invitational. In 2010 and 2011, Woods battled health and swing issues to finish 78th and 37th.
Still, he reiterated his love for Firestone and enters the tournament as the prohibitive favorite to win for the fifth time this season. His previous wins here have been creative and memorable, from the Shot in the Dark to his errant tee shot over the clubhouse and a dramatic playoff against Jim Furyk when both men struggled to find the fairway.
“I’ve done it all different ways,” Woods said. “Some years I’ve striped it and have really played well, and other years I’ve hit it all over the lot and had to be creative. I’ve chipped and putted and holed out. It’s been such a mixed bag, and I think that’s what happens when you win that many times. You can’t always do it the same way.”
Woods struggled around the greens at the British Open, when he carded a 74 on Sunday to finish tied for sixth behind champion Phil Mickelson. Woods said he took a lot of positives out of the Open, beginning with how well he hit the ball. But he blamed himself for not adjusting to the greens, which made his criticism of Oak Hill noteworthy.
Woods was a bit behind the Bridgestone field because he didn’t arrive here until Wednesday morning. He took a quick trip to Rochester, N.Y., on Tuesday to scout Oak Hill in advance of next week’s PGA Championship, a common routine for him in the days before Bridgestone.
He was critical of Oak Hill’s slow greens, something with which he has traditionally struggled. Woods spoke to reporters Wednesday prior to his practice round, and while Firestone was soft from the rain, Woods thought the greens would be fine.
As a result of his late arrival, Woods was meticulous during Wednesday’s practice round, hitting multiple tee shots on all of his first few holes. He began on No. 10, just as he will today when he will be paired with Hideki Matsuyama (9:20 a.m. tee time) for the first time.
He tinkered with his approach shots Wednesday, aimed at different marks around the greens and waded through a gallery that seemed to swell with every shot — even for a quiet practice round on a dreary day.
A steady rain most of the morning softened into a slow drizzle by the time Woods walked onto the practice range. By the time he reached the No. 10 tee box, the rain was gone and the sky began to clear as the gallery grew.
Woods feels good physically, but said he needed the week away given the furious finish to the season. He is expected to play five of the next six weeks, followed by the Presidents Cup at Muirfield Village the first weekend in October.
While some guys like Brandt Snedeker, who won the Canadian Open last week, elected to play consecutive weekends from the British Open through the PGA Championship, Woods said he needed the time away.
“I think a break is important, especially with two big tournaments and a major as the second one,” he said. “It’s a lot of golf at the end of the year, and that’s one of the reasons why some of the guys don’t play as much in the summer to save your body and mind for this stretch, because it’s a long haul from here through the Presidents Cup.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Bridgestone Invitational blog at http://www.ohio.com/blogs/bridgestone-invitational. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloyd ABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.