The Sports Xchange

By Tom LaMarre, The Sports Xchange

Woods aims for record ninth title at Firestone

Tom Watson indicated at the Open Championship that Tiger Woods might have to make the FedEx Cup playoffs to earn one of his captain's pick for the Ryder Cup, although Jack Nicklaus claimed he would pick Woods regardless if he were in charge of the team.

The top 125 on the points list qualify for the playoffs, but Woods is lagging at No. 214th with only two tournaments remaining to make it after missing much of the season following back surgery on March 31.

However, he might have come to the right place this week, the South Course at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, where he is an eight-time winner of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, including a victory last year.

Woods shares the PGA Tour record for most wins in a single tournament with Sam Snead, who won the Greater Greensboro Open eight times. Tiger also won eight times at Torrey Pines and Bay Hill.

"If he's playing well and he's healthy, I'll pick him," Watson said at Royal Liverpool, where Woods finished 69th in his second tournament back. "But then the caveat is if he doesn't get into the FedEx Cup (playoffs), what to do then? And that's the question I can't answer right now."

Said Woods: "I'm just trying to get in the playoffs somehow."

Woods tied a career record when he shot 9-under-par 61 in round two last year at Firestone en route to a seven-stroke victory over Keegan Bradley and Henrik Stenson of Sweden.

Tiger also won the tournament three consecutive years, from 1999-2001, when the World Golf Championships first were contested, and four more times from 2005-2009, although he missed the tournament in 2008 following knee surgery after his victory in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

"I've done it all different ways, that's the thing," Woods said. "Some years I've striped it and have really played well, and other years I've hit it all over the lot and had to be creative, and I've chipped and putted and holed out. It's been such a mixed bag, and I think that's what happens when you win that many times.

"You can't always do it the same way. You know, I feel comfortable on this golf course, and I think that's the key. I've played it when it's been baked out and fast and is hard and other times when it's soft and slow.

"This is a fantastic golf course ... 60 years of PGA Tour golf here. The first time I ever saw this was when the Big Three were playing, and they had their challenge matches here. I got a big kick out of watching that because Gary (Player) hits wood into 7; Arnold (Palmer) hits 1-iron and Jack hits 2-iron.

"We're hitting 6-irons and 7-irons now. The ball is so different and the game is so different. But it's the same golf course. ... The routing hasn't changed one bit."

Firestone opened for play in 1929 and didn't host a PGA Tour event until the 1954 Rubber City Open, which was won by Tommy Bolt. That tournament was played through 1959, with Palmer winning in 1958.

The course has hosted a PGA Tour event every year since 1962, when Nicklaus captured the first of his four titles in the World Series of Golf, which morphed into the World Golf Championships event in 1999.

The South Course hosted the PGA Championship in 1960 (Jay Hebert winning), 1966 (Al Geiberger) and 1975 (Nicklaus), and in 1974 Firestone became the only club to host three televised events in the same year -- the World Series of Golf, the American Golf Classic and the CBS Golf Classic, one on each of its three courses.

Firestone also was the original site of "The Big Three," a weekly show that originated in 1966, featuring Nicklaus, Palmer and Player in a three-way match.

Among the other names on Firestone's illustrious winners list are Player, Watson, Tony Lema, Gene Littler, Charles Coody, Orville Moody, Tom Weiskopf, Greg Norman, Lanny Wadkins, Nick Price, Craig Stadler, Curtis Strange, Jose Maria Olazabal, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Adam Scott and Darren Clarke.

"I played (Firestone) once when I was a junior," said Woods, who last year claimed his 79th PGA Tour victory, three behind Snead's record, when he won at Firestone. He is winless since. "I was up in Cleveland and came down here and played the course across the street and played the South here.

"I liked it then, and then when I started playing it as a professional, started really understanding how to play it, and by '99 kind of figured it out. Then I've had some pretty good success since '99."

In 2000, he won the WGC title with his famous "Shot in the Dark" on the 18th hole of the final round.

Woods could use some of that magic this week.

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