Vowing “I certainly can win again,” Tiger Woods embarks on the most difficult stretch of his comeback from four back surgeries this week at the course considered his personal playground.

The $10 million World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational will mark the first of five tournaments in six weeks for Woods, 42, who is trying to win for the first time since his 2013 victory at Firestone Country Club.

Early this summer Woods said he recognized what he was going to have to endure by playing the Bridgestone, next week’s PGA Championship in St. Louis and the first three events in the FedExCup playoffs. His medical and training team built a “physical game plan” that he said included recovery breaks and practice time limitations.

“I want to play well and win tournaments through this,” Woods said. “I feel like my body is good. I need to keep it that way.”

Back from vacation

The first “recovery break” came last week, when he vacationed with his children and friends, including girlfriend Erica Herman, in the mountains of Switzerland.

Woods ranks 47th on the FedExCup points list, giving him enough to qualify for all but the Tour Championship Sept. 20-23 in Atlanta.

That is followed by the Ryder Cup Sept. 28-30 outside Paris, which Woods will attend as a vice captain to Jim Furyk. Woods would like to qualify for the U.S. team, with the top eight guaranteed spots decided on Aug. 12, three more announced on Sept. 3 and the last on Sept. 9.

Asked to assess where he stands as far as making the team, Woods said, “Trending.”

That could be said of Woods’ season as well. He tied for sixth at the British Open after a tie for fourth at the Quicken Loans National.

He has recorded four top 25s in his last five events, missing the cut at the U.S. Open after rounds of 78-70. His scoring average of 69.641 ranks 10th on the tour.

CBS on-course reporter Dottie Pepper called Woods “the most compelling story” at the Bridgestone Invitational and said he deserves the attention he’s receiving.

“What was he at the start of the year, 696 in the world? And if you’re now in the WGC event at Akron, you’re a story,” Pepper said in a Q&A provided by the network. “It’s hard to not pay attention to what he’s done, especially considering the back injury, the surgeries, and then there he was last week leading the Open Championship for a while. Who has made a bigger move this year in golf?”

Confidence restored

Woods underwent his first back procedure in March 2014, and the eight-time champion at Firestone was forced to withdraw in the final round that year. But after playing 12 tournaments this year, Woods said his confidence in his body and his game has been high of late.

“To be honest with you, I really felt the best I was playing was going into that Open Championship,” he said. “I was really playing well. I played well at the National, but also my practice sessions were very good. So I knew that if I executed my game plan, I was going to be in contention, which I did. Unfortunately, I just didn’t win.

“This summer, excluding the U.S. Open, I feel like I’m starting to hit the ball a little more crisp. And since I’ve switched putters, I’ve started to make some putts. As we all know, when you make putts here and there, it changes everything.”

Woods said he has looked at video of his swing from his early days on the tour and “there’s no way I can rotate like I used to.” But he said he’s able to generate speed in other ways. He said his biggest challenge following his multiple surgeries was putting because bending over hurt the most.

As he works on improving his strength and flexibility, Woods acknowledged the many unknowns he faced entering this year. In 2017 he played in only one tournament and missed the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open in January. This year he’s notched four top 10s, including a tie for second at the Valspar Championship in March.

“Even my clubs. I’ve changed shafts I don’t know how many times throughout the year, because my swing has changed, my speed has changed,” Woods said. “I’ve had to change the settings on my driver, my 3-wood, my 5-wood. There’s been so many things that have evolved this year that I’ve just had to try and wing it on the fly.”

Younger tour members don’t fear Woods because they don’t know what it was like to compete against the 14-time major winner in his prime. But Justin Thomas, ranked No. 3 in the world, said he’s rooting for Woods to win again.

“I’m always pulling for Tiger if I’m not playing, or if he has a chance to win and I don’t,” Thomas said. “It’s the same as any of my friends. I said this at the beginning of the year — I think he’s going to win if he stays healthy. And it would be really cool for the game, if and when he does.

“But at the same time, I’m trying to make sure that he doesn’t do that, for many reasons.”

Marla Ridenour can be reached at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ.