Woods to return this week at Bridgestone
Sunday, July 31, 2011
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Tiger Woods finally gets back to golf next week at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, ending an 11-week break to heal injuries to his left leg.
Woods used his website on Thursday to announce his return. He posted on his Twitter account that he’s “feeling fit and ready to tee it up at Firestone next week. Excited to get back out there!”
It marks the third-longest layoff of his career, only this time Woods returns with as much uncertainty about his future as ever. Along with questions about the strength of his left knee and Achilles’ tendon, he embarks on his latest comeback with a new caddie, and without guarantees Woods will be eligible for more than two weeks.
Last month, Woods fired Steve Williams, who caddied for Adam Scott at the U.S. Open, then angered Woods by working for the Australian again at the AT&T National without seeking permission.
Golf Channel reported Thursday night that Woods will have longtime friend Bryon Bell on his bag for the Bridgestone, and this news was confirmed to Golfweek by a source at The Greenbrier Classic, this week's Tour stop. Bell, who caddied for Woods when they won the Buick Invitational in 1999 (this was post-Mike "Fluff" Cowan and pre-Williams) went to high school with Woods and serves as president of the icon's course-design company.
Woods has plunged to No. 21 in the world – his lowest ranking since Jan. 26, 1997 – and has gone more than 20 months since last winning, at the Australian Masters on Nov. 15, shortly before he was exposed for having multiple extramarital affairs that led to divorce.
He last played May 12 at The Players Championship, when he withdrew after going 6 over on the front nine because of recurring pain in his left leg. Woods has said he would not compete again until he was fully healed.
How long he lasts might depend on more than just his leg, however.
By missing three months, including the past two majors, Woods has gone from No. 81 to No. 133 in the FedEx Cup standings. Only the top 125 players qualify for the opening round of the playoffs at The Barclays, likely leaving him only the Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship in the following week to make up ground. Otherwise, he would have at least five weeks off without being able to play on the PGA Tour.
At least he is returning to a friendly course. Woods has won seven times at Firestone, matching the most he has won on any course as a pro. However, he was at his low point on the course in the Bridgestone Invitational last year when he finished 78th in an 80-man field. Before that, Woods had never finished out of the top 5.
Woods missed the second half of the 2008 season following reconstructive knee surgery, then sat out five months after crashing his car into a fire hydrant on Thanksgiving night in 2009, changing his career on and off the golf course. His image shattered, he lost four major corporate endorsements and still has not found an endorsement for his bag. He was divorced in August 2010, and he left IMG when the management company did not renew the contract of his agent, Mark Steinberg.
On the course, Woods has lost his aura of the sport’s most dominant figure in the past 40 years. He remains stuck on 14 majors – the last one was in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines – and he nearly missed the cut the last time the PGA Championship was played at Atlanta Athletic Club, in 2001.
– Jim McCabe contributed