A venue that tops Tiger Woods' golfing menu

If he can't win at Firestone, he's officially in a slump

August 05, 2010|By Jeff Shain, Tribune Newspapers

Either way, Sunday evening figures to mark a turning point.

Tiger Woods jets off to the PGA Championship with yet another WGC-Bridgestone Invitational title in his possession, signaling the belated breakthrough from his winter of scandal, counseling and tabloid fodder. At the very least, he makes the winner sweat down the homestretch.

Otherwise, we're left to consider him an ordinary tour pro. Until further notice, anyway.

That isn't to say Woods couldn't blitz the year's final major, a couple of FedEx Cup playoff events and another large bucket of Player of the Year honors. But sparks of excellence haven't grown into a sustained flame, despite some highly favorable major venues.

If Woods can't break out of his malaise at a tournament he has turned into his personal ATM, what else is left?

"I love playing here," Woods said Wednesday in Akron, Ohio. "It has a lot to do with venues. In my career I've played pretty good on certain venues."

And none more than Firestone Country Club's South Course, which ought to be renamed Tiger's Lair for the way he has devoured rivals over the years.

Woods began last year's final round three shots behind Padraig Harrington and was still one behind as both drove into the trees at the par-5 16th.

From 178 yards, Woods lofted a gorgeous 8-iron that stopped a foot from the flagstick. Harrington, feeling rushed after he and Woods were put on the clock on the tee, wound up in the water on the way to a triple-bogey 8.

Woods wound up winning by four. Burp.

He has won twice in playoffs — a seven-hole epic against Jim Furyk in 2001, then in three holes over Stewart Cink in 2006. Woods also has played the other side of the spectrum — an 11-shot romp in 2000, then by eight in '07.

All told, Woods has taken home from Firestone seven versions of the yellow Gary Player Trophy. .

In 12 career appearances, Woods never has finished lower than fourth. If there's one venue where he could shoot 65 in his sleep, it's Firestone.

Of course, that's what many thought about this year's major venues as well. Woods owns three green jackets from Augusta National, blitzed the U.S. Open field by 15 at Pebble Beach and won two British Opens at St. Andrews by a combined 13 strokes.

Instead, Woods came up empty. Fourth at Augusta and Pebble Beach, 23rd at the Old Course.

He's now winless in seven starts — his longest dry spell to start any season. He ranks 111th on the FedEx Cup points list and still has to play his way onto the U.S. Ryder Cup team.

"I've never been one of those guys that just plays awful and then all of a sudden just plays well," Woods said. "I'm starting to put the pieces together of late."

We'll see.

jshain@tribune.com

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