It’s tough to think that just one year ago, Tiger Woods went to the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational with four wins on the year, soon to become five. His seven-shot victory, keyed by a Friday round of 61, was his 79th on the PGA Tour and his eighth at Firestone alone. It’s readily apparent that his eye for this week’s track is as good as any on the schedule, and he’ll need to draw on every bit of his history in northeast Ohio if he has any hope of extending his season.
When Woods tees off with Martin Kaymer on Thursday afternoon in Akron, he’ll be sitting precariously at 215th in the FedEx Cup points race. He’s a massive 2,319 points behind leader Jimmy Walker, but the only number that will matter to him is 125. That’s where he needs to be by the end of next week’s PGA Championship to qualify for The Barclays, the first of four playoff events.
As it stands, Woods has 45 points, six fewer than Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson, and 358 points out of the playoff cut. With big-tournament boosts in points, there are a total of 1,150 available between Firestone and Valhalla, but Woods would have to suddenly find not just winning form, but major-caliber form to get all of them. There’s a rapid drop-off after the top spots, to the point where even two 10th-place finishes, while good, would only earn Woods 160 points. The top three is where the real advancement can be made.
Considering that crash course in FedEx Cup 101, what does it really mean? For starters, Woods absolutely cannot allow for any failure this week. If he wants to make an impression on Watson to become a Ryder Cup selection, performing well at a place where he’s won eight times seems like an obvious move. What better way to prove you’re on the mend than by performing where you’ve proven you can do it time and time again, and against the best players in the world to boot?
Of course, the playoffs are a bit of a pipe dream, but the Ryder Cup might be the only thing in golf right now that gets Tiger’s competitive juices flowing like a major. Woods claims that he’s feeling as well as he has all year, that he’s getting faster and stronger, but he’s going to have to get off to a quick start at his home away from home to show everybody what that really means.
If not, Tiger could be in for another extended vacation sooner than planned.