AKRON, Ohio — This is one farewell party Tiger Woods didn’t want to miss.

Firestone will host the world’s best players for the last time at the Bridgestone Invitational, and it wouldn’t be the same without Woods. He has won it eight times, a PGA Tour record for most victories on the same golf course. Woods didn’t finish out of the top 5 in his first 11 appearances on the venerable South Course, seven of them victories. It also was the last of his 79 victories on the PGA Tour in 2013, right before back problems started to surface.

One problem.

Having played only four tournaments in 29 months because of four back surgeries, Woods returned in December at No. 1,199 in the world. He started his PGA Tour season in January at No. 647. His only hope was to move into the top 50 in the world after the British Open, or to win a tournament.

His tie for sixth in the British Open moved him to No. 50.

“I was just hoping to, one, play the tour long enough to be able to get an opportunity,” Woods said Wednesday, his first time at Firestone in four years. “But I also had to play well to do it. … And within a year to get down to 50, I think, is a pretty good accomplishment. But it also got me into this event.”

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Bridgestone decided not to renew as title sponsor of the World Golf Championship, said to be an annual price tag of about $15 million. The company will sponsor the Senior Players Championship next year at Firestone, while the WGC event moves to Memphis, Tennessee.

“This event has been very special to me over the years, and it’s sad to see it leave Firestone,” Woods said. “We certainly understand it. But for me, I’ve always had such great memories of this golf course.”

Ticket sales spiked when it was disclosed after the British Open that Woods reached No. 50 and would be back at Firestone. He became the face of this tournament over the last two decades, even through some rough patches when he was coping with scars on and off the golf course.

Woods hasn’t been back to Firestone since 2014, when he hurt his back early in the final round. He hasn’t been eligible since then.

He raised expectations with his strong showing at Carnoustie, where he had the lead on Sunday, only to fall back with a double bogey. He wound up three shots behind, with the only consolation being a spot at Firestone.

“He’s going to play well this week,” said Justin Thomas, the world’s third-ranked player. “This place is like Augusta for him. He could probably take two, three weeks off and he’s going to get it around here fine because he knows how to. He’s won here as many times as I’ve won everywhere in my career. I grew up watching him win a lot of tournaments here, hitting the shots in the dark. … So he’s going to be very, very comfortable here.”

WOODS HAS committed to play in the first two events of the FedEx Cup playoffs – the Northern Trust in Paramus, New Jersey, from Aug. 23-26, and the Dell Technologies Championship in Norton, Massachusetts, from Aug. 31 to Sept. 3.

Woods currently ranks 47th in the FedEx Cup standings.


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