Business Trip Change of Attitude at WGC Event

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WGC-Bridgestone - 125wAKRON, Ohio -- The Bridgestone Invitational always felt like a working vacation.
 
Since becoming a World Golf Championship in 1999, it has been held the week after the final major of the year. It was a relief, a time to exhale. And with an $8 million purse and no cut, there was nothing to lose.
 
But that's not the case this year.
 
Padraig Harrington
Open champion Padraig Harrington signs autographs Wedensday. (Getty Images)
>Most of the players in the 84-man field were grinding on the practice range Wednesday, trying to get their games in shape. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were late arrivals, only because they flew in from Southern Hills after practice rounds for the PGA Championship, which starts next week.
 
Firestone has always been a major test with its deep rough and tree-lined fairways.
 
Now it's a major tuneup.
 
'You can look at it one of two ways,' Woods said. 'As you said, the exhale part of it. But I also think it's a nice way to prepare for next week, being such a demanding golf course. And basically, it's the same field. We're just playing back-to-back weeks. It helps. You get to see where your game is going into the last major of the year.'
 
Stewart Cink won at Firestone in 2004 after being selected for the Ryder Cup team, and he lost in a playoff last year to Woods. He would prefer the Bridgestone Invitational be played the week after the PGA, noting that he plays his best when the majors are over.
 
But he could think of no better place to be the week before a major.
 
'It's as tough as any major, with the rough high, and the fairways here are almost impossible to hit -- some of them -- as narrow and firm as they are,' Cink said. 'You come off this week feeling like you got beat up by a major championship course, and then you get to go to the PGA. You're mentally going to be ready after this week.'
 
Woods hardly ever plays the week before a major, preparing to practice at home. He didn't have much of a choice this year, not as the defending champion at a tournament has become an annuity for the world's No. 1 player. He is a five-time winner at Firestone, and he has never finished lower than fifth.
 
The PGA Championship has been one exception to his guideline of not playing a week before the majors. He played the Buick Open outside Detroit in 2000 and 2002 and it didn't seem to bother him. He won the PGA Championship at Valhalla one year, and finished one shot behind Rich Beem at Hazeltine the other.
 
'Did all right those two years, I think,' he said.
 
Put him on Firestone and he's nearly unbeatable.
 
'Golfers have often got horses for courses,' British Open champion Padraig Harrington said. 'Unfortunately for me, this is not one of my happy hunting grounds, and it is for Tiger. I wouldn't like to put my career on the line with challenging Tiger this week and being judged on that alone.'
 
Harrington now is judged by the silver claret jug that he left at home in Dublin after a week of celebration, in which the jug first was filled with Johnny Smith's Smooth Bitter, followed by champagne and then a mixture of other drinks.
 
'At this stage, if you smelled the inside of that claret jug, you wouldn't want to drink out of it,' he said.
 
It will be Harrington's first tournament since beating Sergio Garcia in a playoff at Carnoustie. For Angel Cabrera, it will be his first tournament in the United States since he held off Woods and Jim Furyk to win the U.S. Open at Oakmont.
 
Furyk, meanwhile, wasn't even sure if he could play. Coming off a one-shot victory in the Canadian Open that featured a hole-in-one in his final round of 64, Furyk was on the practice range Tuesday when he felt his back stiffen and the pain increase. He sought treatment Wednesday for his lower back, and wasn't sure he would be fit to play on Thursday.
 
Woods is gearing up for a busy end to his season after playing only 12 times the first seven months, three of them victories. He intends to play six of the next seven weeks through the end of the FedEx Cup season, then a week off before the Presidents Cup.
 
But if he's looking for momentum, this is the place to start.
 
'Each and every year I've played this golf course, it just seems to have worked out,' Woods said. 'I don't know what it is about this golf course. It just looks right. For some reason, I've had success here.'
 
Woods has won five times each at Firestone and Torrey Pines, site of the Buick Invitational (and next year's U.S. Open). He has won four times at Augusta National, and he adds St. Andrews on his list of courses where he has done his best. The British Open has gone to the Old Course only twice in his professional year, but he won both times by a combined 13 shots.
 
'Certain golf courses just fit your eye,' he said. 'It's hard to explain, but this is one of them for me.'
 
He has won in so many different styles.
 
There were times when he needed a late birdie to win, on the 17th hole in 1999 to beat Phil Mickelson and on the 16th hole in 2005 to hold off Chris DiMarco. He twice won in marathon playoffs, seven holes against Furyk in 2001, four holes last year against Cink.
 
And even is 11-shot victory in 2000 was unusual because it ended in darkness.
 
Last year might have been the most bizarre. At the end of the second round, Woods' shot from the rough on the ninth hole went over the green, bounced off the cart path, then went onto and over the clubhouse. Because the clubhouse is not marked out-of-bounds, he was given a free drop between the practice range and the first tee.
 
'I made 5,' Woods said when asked about his memory of that shot.
 
And it gave him a fifth title at Firestone, something to build on this week.
 
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