Players Well Aware of Tiger Firestone Matchup

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WGC-Bridgestone - 125wAKRON, Ohio -- By his own count, there are four venues where the best golfer on the planet finds it easiest to conjure his magic.
 
These are where Tiger Woods is almost unbeatable.
 
There's Augusta National, where he's won four Masters. At Torrey Pines, he's taken five Buick Invitational victories. He's 2-for-2 in British Opens at St. Andrews.
 
Then there's Firestone Country Club.
 
'Those are places I seem to play well every time I go there,' Woods said Wednesday. 'Certain golf courses just fit your eye, and it's hard to explain but this is one of them for me.'
 
Having won five times at Firestone already, Woods is back for more beginning in Thursday's opening round of the Bridgestone Invitational, an $8 million World Golf Championship.
 
The Bridgestone is making its first appearance this early in the PGA Tour calendar. For years the tournament, previously known as the NEC Invitational and the World Series of Golf, came a week or two after the PGA Championship. Now it's a warm-up for the PGA, the final major of the year, next week at Southern Hills.
 
'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 to play a major championship,' said Stewart Cink, who lost in a four-hole playoff to Woods last year at the Bridgestone. 'You're mentally going to be ready after this week, after four rounds on this thing.'
 
No matter where the stop at Firestone falls on the schedule, Woods is always the man to beat. He's never finished worse than fifth place at Firestone, winning in 1999, 2000, 2001 and in 2005 and 2006.
 
'Golfers have often got horses for courses,' said Padraig Harrington, fresh from his British Open playoff victory over Sergio Garcia two weeks ago. '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.'
 
What's even more remarkable about Woods' mastery at Firestone is that the tournament annually draws a sterling field akin to that of a major championship. The 84-player field, fighting for a first-place check of $1.35 million, includes all but one the top 50 players in the world rankings.
 
Jim Furyk, who climbed to No. 2 off his second straight win at the Canadian Open last week, withdrew Thursday morning with upper back problems.
 
But everyone else -- Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, Sergio Garcia and the rest -- is ready to go, hoping for a big payday while playing under conditions not unlike what they'll face the following week in Tulsa.
 
All hope to play as well as they can, and then hope it's enough to knock off Woods.
 
'They all look at Tiger's score,' Harrington said. 'We look at our own score and you look at who's leading and they you kind of check -- 'I wonder where Tiger is?''
 
Woods' victories in the Bridgestone have been accompanied by some memorable snapshots. He won one year by 11 shots, putting out on the final hole as darkness fell. Another time he came out on top after a tension-filled, seven-hole sudden-death playoff with Furyk.
 
A year ago he hit an unforgettably awful approach shot on his final hole in the second round that ricocheted off a sidewalk and ended up pinballing around the ducts and vents on the roof of the clubhouse. Oh, and he still won the tournament a day later by outdueling Cink.
 
Woods seldom plays on tour the week before a major, although there is some precedent.
 
'The PGA Championship is the only major that I've ever played the week prior. I played the Buick Open two times, maybe like '99 and 2000, and I did all right those two years I think,' he said.
 
Then Woods laughed. Each of those years he went on to win the PGA.
 
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