Tiger Woods is back.
After a three-month layoff, Woods will return to the PGA Tour at the popular WGC-Bridgestone Invitational on the South Course at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.
Woods, who has been hampered by knee and Achilles tendon injuries since the Masters Tournament back in April, was recently given the green light from his doctors to get back on the golf course. He wasted no time announcing his intent to return to competitive golf and the place where he won a record seven times during his storied career.
"I started back practicing a couple weeks ago," Woods said in his pre-tournament presser. "I was close to playing last week, but again, docs advised that maybe I'd want to take another week of training and really start pushing it pretty hard. So I did. And I feel good now. It was the right thing to do and here I am."
It's difficult to expect much from Woods this week. His layoff occurred at the same time he was trying to battle through swing change challenges and finding a replacement for long-time caddy Steve Williams, whom he fired a couple weeks ago. But his very presence in this impressive field will create a strong buzz and if he gets hot—well, it's hard to say how far he will take it.
I won't go so far as to predict a Tiger Woods victory this week. But a top ten finish would be a huge accomplishment heading into the PGA Championship next week.
Here are seven other golfers who should do well at this week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
The weather forecast for Akron, Ohio this weekend calls for partly cloudy skies with temperatures in the mid to upper 80s. There's a slight chance of a Saturday afternoon thunderstorm.
That should be good news for reigning U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, who after a disappointing T25, seven over par finish at the British Open last month, said he preferred warm and sunny conditions to the typically windy, rainy Open Championship predicament.
McIlroy won't be able to use the weather as an excuse for any potential poor play this week. And I don't expect him to need to.
The No. 5 player in the world (according to the Official World Golf Ranking) should regain, albeit to a lesser degree, the form that enabled him to lap the field at Congressional back in June and at the very least, claim a top ten finish here at Firestone.
Wouldn't a McIlroy-Woods final pairing on Sunday be interesting?
Dustin Johnson is due.
After letting last year's PGA Championship slip through his fingers, he has been a player to watch in just about every tournament he's entered. The only problem is, the results have not met the incredibly high—and probably unfair—expectations.
Johnson has five top ten finishes this year. That's nothing to scoff at. Plus he's in the top five in three separate statistical categories on the PGA Tour—Birdie Average, Par Breakers and Driving Distance.
He threatened at last month's British Open, securing a spot in the final group on Sunday with eventual winner Darren Clarke before settling for a second place tie with Phil Mickelson, three shots back.
It feels like his time and this could be his tournament for the taking—if he's not looking ahead to next week's PGA Championship.
Since winning the Players Championship in a playoff against David Toms at TPC Sawgrass back in May, K.J. Choi has disappointed in the majors—missing the cut at the U.S. Open in June and finishing T44 at the British Open last month.
I thought maybe it was some sort of B/R jinx that I was responsible for, having interviewed Choi just prior to the U.S. Open. But somewhere in between the major championship blunders, his second place finish at the AT&T National proved he isn't ready to disappear just yet.
Let's keep things in perspective. Choi is still second on the money list and he's third behind Nick Watney and Steve Stricker in the FedExCup points race.
He'll be just fine. But a run this week would really boost his confidence heading into next week's PGA Championship.
Steve Stricker is certainly making a strong bid for the PGA Tour's Player of the Year award.
The numbers tell the whole story.
Stricker chalked up his wins this year in two of the last four tournaments he entered—The Memorial and the John Deere Classic. He's No. 1 in an impressive four PGA Tour categories—Scoring Average, Birdie Average, Par Breakers and Strokes Gained Putting. And he's second in FedExCup points.
Plus, the last two times he's played here at Firestone, Stricker has finished in the top ten.
Steve Stricker has been a model of consistency in 2011 thus far and should be a top ten lock this week.
Hunter Mahan isn't having his best PGA Tour season. And I don't want to go so far as to blame his lack of recent success on the Golf Boys, but that disturbing music video with Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler and Ben Crane hasn't done his golf game any favors since it debuted at the U.S. Open.
Mahan hasn't played very well since.
I'm kidding, of course, about his boy band. I think the Golf Boys are great—great as in entertaining, amusing. But, I digress.
Mahan might be struggling as of late, but he still has seven top ten finishes to his credit this year. And as the defending champion at Firestone, Mahan has three top ten showings in four tries on this course.
That's good enough for me to predict he'll get back on track this week and turn in some impressive scores.
I really like the way Rickie Fowler has been playing lately.
OK, he still has yet to notch a win on the PGA Tour. But he's getting closer.
And two of his three best finishes this year have been at WGC events—T9 at the Accenture Match Play and eighth at the Cadillac. The other? Last month's British Open where he finished tied for fifth at even par.
Fowler's doing a lot of things well. Statistically, he's top ten in Birdie Average and Par Breakers. And he seems to be learning from previous mistakes.
I think it all bodes well for a run at his first PGA Tour victory this week at Firestone.
Here's taking a chance that PGA Tour rookie Scott Stallings will pick up where he left off last week after winning the Greenbrier Classic.
Stallings birdied seven of his last 10 holes in the final group, including the playoff against Bob Estes and Bill Haas, to storm into this week's event with his first PGA Tour win and a ton of confidence.
Stallings hasn't exactly been silent this year, though. He's only made the cut in nine of 21 events, but he's been the low rookie three times and has seven top-25 finishes to his credit.
He hits the ball a long way (11th in overall driving distance) and he'll need every bit of it to keep up with Firestone's 7,400 yards—the longest par-70 track on the PGA Tour schedule.
"Obviously it's a great tournament," Stallings said in his pre-tournament presser. "It's a great field. It's an honor to be here and to be part of a great event. I'm definitely looking forward to getting out there and playing nine holes on back-to-back days. And I'm looking forward to being rested and ready for Thursday."