If Tiger Woods was a car, he would be more like a beat-up jalopy than the high-flying Testarossa he once was. When people tune in to watch him now, it is not so much to see if he will win as it is to see when he will crash.
The WGC-Bridgestone, where he has won a remarkable eight times, provides the perfect opportunity for the 38-year-old Tiger to clear off some of the rust that has come with age and injury. It is his chance to show that he can still speed past the rest of the pack.
After a dismal performance at 2014 The Open Championship, where he shot three consecutive over-par rounds (77-73-75) and finished 69th, Tiger can use the WGC event as a touchstone for better play and perhaps become a member of the Ryder Cup team.
Yet he has numerous problems going into the event that he has to work on in order to rise back to a position of prominence. He is currently ranked 214th in the FedEx Cup rankings and ninth in the Official World Golf Ranking.
At this rate, he will probably be left off the Ryder Cup team. Tom Watson, the Ryder Cup captain, said that after his weak performance at The Open Championship, Woods needs to step up his game in order to be selected to the team.
"He's not in the mix. He needed to get in the mix to get some points, to get some money and get in the FedExCup," Watson said, per Dave Shedloski of Golf Digest (h/t Sporting News). "That was what I was hoping he was doing this week."
He has played in only two tournaments since returning from back surgery. He didn’t make the cut at the Quicken Loans National, and, of course, his play at The Open Championship was suspect.
His swing is off, his short game needs work, and let’s not talk about his putting.
His swing issues have been the basis of many articles and analyses over the years. He has changed his swing many times and employed a variety of coaches. He now has to deal with a bit less length off the tee and less flexibility in his body.
As he ventures into a tournament where he has had great success and where he should feel both relaxed and confident, there is at least some hope that he can put up better numbers. What may also help is the fact that he feels his back is not an issue and that he is as strong as ever.
Said Woods during The Open Championship, per the Daily Mail's Alan Wilson, "This is how it used to feel. I had been playing with the injury and had my good weeks and bad weeks. Now they are all good."
What he really needs is more time playing competitively in order to compete with the likes of Rory
McIlroy, Adam Scott and Bubba Watson, to name just a few of golf's elite players who are not only competing consistently but also winning on golf's biggest stages.
Wrote Peter Kostis of Golf.com, "I saw nothing at the British Open to believe that Tiger Woods’ back was in any way a detriment to him playing four days of competitive golf. That’s great news. The bad news is that his golf isn’t where it needs to be, and it might not be for a while.
Tiger has something very real to shoot for at the WGC and at the upcoming PGA Championship. If he finishes at least third in both, he will get onto the Ryder Cup team. He has missed only one Ryder Cup since 1997 (in 2008 due to knee surgery).
Watson can still pick Woods as a captain’s pick, but that is looking iffy.
Even after his finish at The Open Championship, Tiger feels Watson should pick him.
"I would say yes. But that's my position, my take on it,” Woods said, per Golf.com's Mike Walker. “He's the captain. Obviously it's his decision. He's going to field the best 12 players that he thinks will win the Cup back. And I hope I'm on that team.”
When he won the WGC-Bridgestone last year, he finished 15 under par. The last five times he has played the event, he has finished outside the top 10 only once.
Firestone Country Club, where the WGC-Bridgestone will be played, is a long, narrow course that will reward big hitters and accuracy off the tee, neither of which is Tiger’s strong suit right now. His entire game will be tested.
Last year, when he won five tournaments and was the No. 1 player in the world, Tiger had some pretty impressive tour stats. Most notably, he was No. 2 in scoring average at 68.9. In this truncated year, he is averaging almost 72 per round. He is also hitting a bit over half of his fairways and getting on the green in regulation at about the same rate.
As Tiger revs his engine in hope of another win at Firestone, the question now is whether he can prevent another wreck.