Mar
7
2012
Wednesday at Doral: Tiger Pumped for Doral, Phil Talks Masters Prep
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

Tiger's favorite pre-tourney activity: meeting with the press

Tiger Woods spoke with the media in a pseudo-press conference in the “flash” area (next to the scoring area for post-round interviews if the player isn’t brought into the interview room), and this Wednesday was a little less eventful than last week’s at the Honda Classic. No, Tiger didn’t call anyone a “beauty” or lose his cool, and no reporters asked him about former swing instructor Hank Haney’s book and the “revelation” that the 14-time major champ considered quitting golf to become a Navy SEAL. (Shucks, I know!)

In other words, it was pretty uneventful and he basically gave the same answers in slightly different words to similar questions from Sunday’s post-62 presser at PGA National.

One thing’s for sure: Tiger’s pumped for the wind to howl at Doral. And it’s been gusting like crazy the past two days (don’t get me started on bad hair days! — in case it’s not clear, that’s a joke). I can’t decide whether it was windier today or yesterday, but it’s been blowing around 25-35mph. The forecast is calling for 15-25mph pretty much for the next four days.

As we saw on Sunday, Tiger feels very comfortable playing in breezy conditions, which has been evident from his results since the end of last year, including the events in Australia (which seems like his favorite place in the world judging from his extremely affable mood there) and the Chevron World Challenge.

“One of the reasons why I’ve hit the ball as well as I have this year, and I felt so comfortable when the wind was howling on Sunday because of what I did in Oz those two weeks when it was blowing a gale,” said Tiger when asked about his spectacular eight-under 62 in the final round of the Honda to place T2.

In 11 starts at this event, Woods has won six times (three of which were at Doral) and never placed outside the top ten.

Onto other matters — like how he’s currently ranked No. 1 in total driving. Yes, seriously. There were some jaws that dropped when other players were informed of that stat because, well, Tiger hasn’t necessarily been known for his driving accuracy in the past.

“We had to dedicate so much time to driving, and getting the ball in the fairway,” he said. “Hence, I’m No. 1 in total driving.  We fixed that.  Now it’s on to other aspects of the game.  You have to take up and focus on the weaknesses make them their strengths.  And we’ve done that, and we still have some more weaknesses to look at and to fix.”

By that, he means his short game, especially his putting, which hasn’t been the sharpest, to say the least.

“I’m in a position now where I can start dedicating a little more time to other aspects of my game,” he said. “But still I can’t neglect what I do on the range.  But I can also start delegating a little bit more time to my chipping and my putting, and the short game itself, because I understand the whole concept of what Sean is trying to get me to do.  And I understand the numbers now, and now the feel is starting to equate to the proper numbers.”

I’d like a tutorial on the whole numbers system.

Perhaps the most interesting part of his presser — besides throwing in the word “asinine” at one point — was his comments on whether he felt this was the most exciting time in golf since he was tearing it up in 2000, given the rise of the new generation of “kids.”

“Well, I think every year is exciting for me,” said Tiger, with a twinkle in his eye.

“Yeah, but you know, I’ve been in the same situation before. It was Vijay (Singh), myself and Phil (Mickelson), and Ernie (Els) were all going at it for a number of years, and (Retief) Goosen.  So now it’s just a different crop of guys.”

True, which is good for the game because more casual fans will tune in if they see names they recognize in contention on any given Sunday.

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Asked if he ever felt comfortable standing on the 12th tee at Augusta National, Tiger replied, “Absolutely.” Then he paused for a moment, smiling, and added, “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Every time.”

It was funny.

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Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods nearly played a practice round together at Augusta National this week, but Tiger bailed at the last moment. Yes, no joke.

Phil was full of one-liner quips during his presser Wednesday afternoon.

One reporter brought up Ernie Els’ comment that “Tiger is back” after watching him shoot 62 at the Honda Classic, and asked Phil for his assessment.

“Obviously he was paying attention a couple of weeks ago which is nice to see,” Phil said sarcastically.

The room erupted with laughter. Phil, of course, was making a reference to the Pebble Beach Pro-Am when he shot a final-round 64 to win, while paired with Tiger, who posted a disappointing 75. Apparently the guy who asked the question didn’t get it (don’t think he was a regular golf reporter, probably a local dude) and stared blankly.

“At least I thought it was funny,” said Phil, while the laughter died down. He made the over-the-head motion and said, “Whoosh.”

Phil’s most pumped for the year because he found his putting stroke in the off-season.

“This is a different year for me for one simple reason, my putter is back,” he said. “I hit the ball great the last couple of years, and this year, I can roll it again and it feels terrific.  And I believe I’m going to make them even when I don’t… I’m just happy to be back in the mix.  I’ve got a lot of confidence and the biggest reason is, again, because I’ve got the putter back.”

Who else is hoping for another Phil-Tiger duel on Sunday? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

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Phil found his putting stroke in the off-season

With the Masters looming less than a month away, players are showing up for early recon. While Tiger bailed out on Tuesday, Phil brought along Keegan Bradley and Dustin Johnson for a practice round (and of course, a little money game on the side, per usual) at Augusta National.

Asked if he kept score, Phil, smiling smugly with a shrug, said, “Just 1-up, 2-up.”

Phil’s practice round money games are just about the only thing that’s predictable.

He also filled us in on the changes to the greens on the par-5 eighth and the par-3 16th (he said Augusta redoes and makes slight changes to two greens a year — I didn’t know that prior to today).

Interesting enough, Phil said the subtle modifications potentially make the pin placements to those greens easier.

“After looking at them, I think that some of the more challenging pin placements on those greens were softened a little bit, and made to be not quite as difficult,” he said.  “I don’t know if  I’m not saying it’s good, bad, indifferent.  But there was bigger plateaus up on the top right on 16.

“The green on 8 in the front was widened.  The hill on the left was softened. Little things that I felt like the back right pin on 8 was made much more accessible.  It’s much flatter, a lot more room there.  You can be a little bit more aggressive now into that pin.  So, it was interesting.”

In related news, apparently DJ was hitting his driver all over the map at Augusta. Good news is that we all know you can still score — and even win the Masters — despite some wayward tee shots.

Just ask Phil and Tiger!

“There’s a ton of reasons as to why I’ve played well there (at Augusta) consistently year-in and year-out, whether I’m sharp or not,” said Phil, who has won three green jackets.  “And the biggest reason is that you don’t have to be perfect there.”

 (AP Photos/Wilfredo Lee, Chris Carlson)