(Reuters) – Dustin Johnson is defending champion at the Northern Trust tournament, but all eyes will be on Tiger Woods when the PGA Tour’s FedExCup playoffs begin in New Jersey on Thursday.
Woods is in the playoffs for the first time since 2013, when he was crowned champion of the season-long points race.
With his debilitating back problem now seemingly behind him, he has almost recaptured the form of his halcyon days, with only a victory missing from his 2018 resume.
“I feel like my next wins are coming soon. How soon I don’t know but I’m putting myself there in tournaments now,” the 42-year-old told reporters on Tuesday at Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus.
“I’ve done it two of the last three tournaments I’ve played and they were big events, so I’m not that far away from getting it done.
“I think if I keep giving myself opportunities, I’ll get the job done.”
Woods was a contender in the final two majors of the season, the British Open and PGA Championship, charging up the Sunday leaderboard before falling short.
He has been stuck on 14 major victories for more than a decade, his quest to surpass Jack Nicklaus (18) as the sport’s most prolific major winner looking increasingly out of reach.
More realistic is the record for PGA Tour victories, 82 held by the late Sam Snead. Woods has 79 career wins, 65 away from the majors.
“In order to get to Jack’s ultimate 18, I’ve got to pass Sam’s, and I want to make that happen,” he said. “I’m close.”
Woods has tweaked his driver this week, adding one degree of loft in an effort to find more fairways.
He hit several wild tee shots in the final round at the PGA Championship in a closing 64.
He enters the four-event playoffs 20th in the rankings, assured of playing in the first three tournaments.
The top 125 are eligible for the Northern Trust, while only 100 will advance to next week’s Dell Championship near Boston.
Seventy will proceed to the BMW Championship near Philadelphia, before the 30-man season-ending Tour Championship in Atlanta.
Xander Schauffele is the overall FedExCup champion. He starts the playoffs ranked 28th, while Johnson is ranked number one ahead of Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka.
Four eligible players are not teeing off this week, notably former world number one Rory McIlroy, who is resting, and Rickie Fowler, who has a partially torn abdomen muscle.
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Ian Ransom)