Tiger Woods set to tackle Firestone CC

August, 2, 2011

When 14-time major champion Tiger Woods returns to competition this week at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, he will be doing so at an event where he's seen near-unprecedented success.

Trivia question

Tiger's caddie this week, Bryon Bell, was on the bag when Woods won the 1996 U.S. Amateur. Who was runner-up that year? (Answer below)

He'll also be doing so on the heels of an 85-day layoff between competitive rounds, 691 days removed from his last PGA Tour victory, and as a man who finished 18 over par at this very event a year ago.

Such is the analysis of contrasting data that has made trying to predict how Woods will perform on the golf course a difficult process. Will this be the week he regains his old form? He hasn't won in almost two years, but he has won 71 of these things, right?

Cynicism and doubt regarding if Tiger will ever become "Tiger" again is now not only acceptable practice, it's completely warranted. Woods is 28th in the Official World Golf Ranking; seven spots behind Kim Kyung-Tae and four spots behind Martin Laird. Woods has spent his career having his name mentioned in the same breath as Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, not the likes of Alvaro Quiros (25th) and David Toms (26th).

There are reasons Woods is the only golfer on Earth whose registration in a tournament makes news. Let's look at a couple of the numbers regarding Tiger's dominance at the WGC-Bridgestone:

• Woods has won the WGC-Bridgestone seven times in 11 career starts. Only one player won a single event more times in his career in PGA Tour history: Sam Snead, who won the Greater Greensboro Open eight times. Woods has won four tournaments six or more times in his career. Only one other player -- Snead -- has done that even twice (Greensboro and the Miami Open).

• Each of Tiger's seven victories in this event has come at Firestone. No other player has won more at a single course in PGA Tour history than Woods has in Akron, though Tiger has won seven times someplace else -- at Torrey Pines.

• Woods was a mess last year in Akron, posting his highest career total score for a four-round PGA Tour event (298). Before last year, though, Tiger had never finished worse than tied for fourth in 10 starts at this event.

Adding to the Woods intrigue this week is that long-time caddie Steve Williams will not be on his bag. Replacing Tiger will reportedly be old friend Bryon Bell, who has caddied for Tiger in the past -- three times on the PGA Tour, as well as in the 1996 U.S. Amateur. Bell's name is also familiar to those who followed the Woods scandal last year.

That being said, Tiger played very well in the events with Bell between the ropes. At the 1999 Buick Invitational, Tiger won with a score of 22 under par. The next year, Woods gave him a shot at defending his title, and he tied for second at 14 under. At the 2003 Disney event when Woods gave Williams the week off to tend to his racing team, Tiger finished T-2 again, at 19 under.

Add those three events up, and it's a cumulative total of 55 under par and a scoring average of 67.4. Needless to say, the golf world will be buzzing this weekend if Tiger finds a way (somehow) to replicate those kind of numbers.

The year of the playoff on the PGA Tour continued Sunday at The Greenbrier Classic, as tour rookie Scott Stallings defeated Bill Haas and Bob Estes on the first playoff hole by making birdie. The playoff was the 13th of the season on the PGA Tour, the most since there were 14 during the 2004 season.

The tour is headed toward breaking the record for playoffs in a season. The mark is 16 -- done in both 1988 and 1991. With 13 official events to go, the tour is on pace to finish with 18 playoffs.

In addition to the playoff theme, parity is apparently rampant as well. Stallings became the 29th different winner of an official PGA Tour event this year and the sixth rookie to accomplish the feat (the most the tour has seen since 1970).

Winning multiple times has become an even rarer sight. No player has won more than twice this year, after Jim Furyk led the way with three victories a year ago.

Trivia answer

Question: Tiger's caddie this week, Bryon Bell, was on the bag when Woods won the 1996 U.S. Amateur. Who was runner-up that year?

Answer: Steve Scott.

If none of our two-time winners picks up a third title before the end of the season, it will mark the first time in two decades that the PGA Tour has not had a three-time winner over the course of a calendar year. That last happened in 1991, when eight players won twice, tying for the lead.

Justin Ray is a senior researcher with ESPN Stats and Information. He has contributed to ESPN's golf coverage since joining the network out of college in 2008. He is based in Austin, Texas with the new Longhorn Network. Send comments and suggestions to Justin.Ray@espn.com.





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