AKRON, OHIO – The landmark at Firestone Country Club is among the most popular in America, a massive water tower in the shape of a golf ball on a tee.
As it prepares to host the Bridgestone Invitational this week, Tiger Woods has reason to see only a big ATM machine.
Woods has eight wins at Firestone, one more than Matt Kuchar has won on the PGA Tour. In 15 appearances, he has made $11.06 million, which is roughly the same as Tom Watson has made in four decades on the PGA Tour.
OK, that’s not a fair comparison. Watson played at a time when total prize money at tournaments was about the same as a first-place check today. Firestone featured the biggest payoff on the PGA Tour schedule — majors included — when Watson won in 1980. He earned $100,000.
Then again, Watson might be the perfect reference point for the peculiar plight of Woods.
For example, who could have imagined one year ago that when Woods returned to the Bridgestone Invitational as the defending champion, he would be four spots behind the 64-year-old Watson in the FedEx Cup? Or that Watson would have as many rounds in the 60s on the PGA Tour this year — four — as Woods?
Consider how different Woods’ future looked a year ago.
Coming off his seven-shot win at Firestone (his fifth win of the year), Woods was tugging at his back seven days later during the final round of the PGA Championship. Two weeks later, he dropped to his knees with a back spasm during the final round of The Barclays. And two months into this year, he was out of golf for three months because of back surgery.
That explains why Woods is at No. 215 in the FedEx Cup, and why is unlikely to qualify for the playoffs barring a quick turnaround.
“Is there any added pressure coming into this event? No,” Woods said Monday. “I’ve won in this event eight times, so I know how to play under various conditions, various circumstances. Certainly, I’ll draw upon those experiences and at all the events that I’ve played in that I’ve won throughout the previous years. I’ve been able to win on this property. And that does help.”
Woods faces two big weeks that will shape the rest of his season — whether he’s playing or watching from home, assuming he even watches golf on television.
Two weeks remain before Watson knows which nine Americans automatically earn spots on his Ryder Cup team.
Woods is so far down the list at No. 70 that even if he were to win the $9 million World Golf Championship event this week, he still wouldn’t crack the top 20 in the Ryder Cup standings. All that would do is make it easy for Watson to pick him.
Six players from the last U.S. Ryder Cup team are not eligible going into these last two weeks. Watson gets only three picks.
Jack Nicklaus couldn’t imagine Woods being left off the team.
“If I was a captain . . . I don’t care what he does between now and then,” Nicklaus said. “If Tiger wants to play, I would certainly choose him.”
That’s easy for Nicklaus to say.
All four times that Woods played for Nicklaus in the Presidents Cup, he was the No. 1 player in the world.