Tiger Woods visited the media center for his U.S. Open pre-tournament press conference at Olympic Club. Tiger played an early-morning practice round with former Stanford teammate Casey Martin (who came in to speak with us yesterday and he was exactly how you’d expect — candid, great energy, inspirational, etc. I know I haven’t posted on it yet, but it’s been a tad busy. Apologies!). Woods talked about the changes to Olympic since it last held the U.S. Open in ’98, the challenging first six holes, the difficulty of the course, and the strategy to surviving the grueling test of golf.
Here are the highlights from the transcript of Tiger’s comments
*On the changes since ’98: Well, first all my charts are all outdated because they’ve resurfaced every green. So I had to do a whole new book. But also I think that the new chipping areas, as I was saying earlier, are way different. We had balls that were landing on the green on 13 that were going in the hazard. That’s a big change. That and a couple of bunkers have been moved. The 8th hole is obviously different from what we played. But it’s weird playing the two holes, one is a par-5 and one is a par-4, the same distance — being the 1st and 17th. They’re identically the same distance. And playing as a par, the last two holes two of the last three holes being par-5s, back-to-back, we don’t see a golf course like that unless we play Baltusrol. We have to wait that long before we play a par-5. There’s a big premium on driving the golf ball and shaping it. The speed of these fairways is picking up, it’s going to be a great test.
*On the chances of chit-chatting with Phil Mickelson during their rounds on Thursday and Friday: I don’t think we’re going to talk about a lot. This is a Major championship. We’ve got work to do. Any extra motivation? No. I’m just trying to get out there and position myself for Sunday. This is a long grind. We’re teeing off of No. 9, so we don’t get to play obviously the first six holes until it’s basically our back nine.It’s such a test playing in this championship. I think this is one of those championships that I think the guys talk the least to one another because it’s so difficult. Every shot is there’s no shot you can take off, so to speak. Sometimes say you’re playing St. Andrews, and you go ahead and wail away, no big deal. But here there’s such a premium on positioning the golf ball. That I think this is the tournament that I think the guys least conversate.
*On the challenging stretch of the first six-holes at Olympic (possibly the most grueling in golf — no exaggerations): I think that the first six, if you play them for four straight days even par, you’re going to be picking up just a boat load of shots. They’re just difficult. It will be interesting to see where they put the tees on some of these holes, because obviously they can put 1 back, they can put 3 back. They’ve shown us two different tee locations on 5. So they can mix/match a little bit and give us a break or just hammer us. So we’ll see what happens. The thing is, we all know back in the older U.S. Opens, it was always back. Now Mike throws wrinkles in every now and then. You’ve just got to make those adjustments.
*On his putting stroke: On this golf course it’s going to be difficult to get the ball close. And I’m going to rely a lot on lag putting and obviously we’re going to have to make those short putts. Even if you miss the green, pitches are a good pitch is going to be anything inside 8 feet sometimes. That part I’m not too worried about.
*On playing a practice round with former Stanford teammate Casey Martin: As far as playing with Casey, man, it’s great to see him. I haven’t seen him in a while. And he’s now the coach of the Ducks. And just so happy in life. It’s neat to see him he played the Tour out here, tried that and he was happy doing it, but it’s not like he is now. It’s good to see him in a really good place.
*On Casey in general: Unless you really know him I don’t think people really have appreciation of how much pain he’s in. Just the every day pain he lives with. He doesn’t show it, doesn’t talk about it, doesn’t complain about it, he just lives with it. I saw it in college, he was my roommate on the road a few times. And this is back when we were playing 36 (holes)-18 (holes) [Ed.note: To clarify, Tiger is referring to college tournament format that some schools use in order to get in 54 holes. I can attest that it’s awful with any kind of injury. Oh, he forgot to mention the 18-hole practice round before the 36-hole day!). I don’t know how he did it, to be honest with you. I just don’t know how he did it. For him to try and play the Tour, just try in itself is just amazing. And to get out here and play a few events and try to make a career out of it, it’s hats off to him. The pain threshold that you have to have to deal with it. And you just look at him, he’s always so happy. It’s very easy to go the other way and be very bitter, because of how uncomfortable he is on a daily basis. But I think that’s what makes him special. That’s what makes him so different than everyone else, he has such a strong will and such a strong spirit.
*On going head-to-head with Phil: “We’ve had a lot of battles throughout the years, I can tell you that. We’ve gone headtohead a few times throughout the years.
But ironically I think I’ve gone head-to-head more with two other guys. I know I have. I’ve gone head-to-head more with Ernie and Vijay second and I think Phil would be third.
*On breaking Jack Nicklaus’ all-time majors record (shocking: Tiger is still confident he can): Well, Jack did it at 46, right? So I’ve got ten. Watson almost pulled it off at 59. It can be done. We can play for a very long time. And that’s the great thing about staying in shape and lifting weights and being fit is that the playing careers have extended.
Look how many guys are 50 plus still playing out here. And Tom Pernice just came back out and started playing. Guys are extending their careers and playing for a lot longer than they used to. Most of the guys used to shut it down in early 40s. Bu like Vijay, he won almost 30 events, just in his 40s alone.
*On Olympic being a complete examination of a player’s game: I think this probably tests the player more than any other championship. We have to shape the ball. We have to hit the ball high. We have to hit the ball low. Our short game’s got to be dialed in. The only thing that’s different with U.S. Opens in past it was always, miss the green, automatic lob wedge. Now with some of these runoff areas, we can play bump and runs, we can play skip shots, we could flop it if we wanted to. We have different options. So I think what Mike has done has been remarkable at testing us.
And then the U.S. Opens prior to when Mike took over, it was very simple, the tee locations were always the same. And it was always the same golf course for four straight days. Now we’ve got to make adjustments. He moves different tee boxes. What he did on the Torrey Pines on 14, making that drivable par4, it throws he throws different wrinkles at you. But overall I think this is just the most demanding test that there is in golf.
*On why he’ll play better this week after winning at Memorial compared to his crappy showing at the Masters after winning Bay Hill (ugh): Yeah, when I went into Augusta and I’ve told you guys this, I know, after, that I did not feel comfortable hitting the ball up. And I got back into a lot of my old patterns. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. But that’s what made playing Muirfield so nice is that I had those shots and I was doing it the correct way. And I had compression, hitting the ball high and hitting it long. That was fun.
*On the importance of shotmaking at Olympic: Yeah, you have to curve it more off the tees here than any other golf course that we play. Even to the greens, you’ve got right-to-left slopes of, let’s say right-to-left slopes of fairways and greens, and you have to cut it, so you’re going against the grain. It’s the same thing on the flip side. That’s the neat thing about this golf course is it seems like the majority of the doglegs kind of run away from you. And it puts a big premium on shaping the ball. But also it puts a big premium on game planning, what you want to do, where you want to hit it. And being committed to that.
*On the history of upsets and disappointments at the US Opens at Olympic: Well, I mean I don’t know, but Billy Casper was just in here, right? And he won 50 plus events, three major championships, that’s not that big an upset I mean, geez. He’s a hell of a player. Scott Simpson playing Watson, Scott Simpson playing on U.S. Open venues, period, was always tough to beat. Certain guys do really well in certain events.
Scott Simpson has got his record in this event. Like Payne Stewart had his record in this event. Lee Janzen who won here, he did well in U.S. Opens. I think this golf course, if you look at all those golfers that you named, they all shaped the ball. And I think they’re proficient at going either way with the golf ball. And if you’re going to pick one thing that’s common between all those players, is they had a comfort of shaping the ball either way.
I was reading something a long time ago about Arnold playing this event. He likes to draw the ball. But he learned how to hit a cut just for this event. He did all right. He had a seven shot lead with nine to go. He became proficient at hitting it either way. And I think that’s what you have to do on this golf course, because as I say, the doglegs run away from you. And we have to hit the ball with some kind of shape to keep them in there. And with the fairways getting fast, that rough just comes up quick.
*On the finishing three holes — par-5, par-5, par-4: Well, it gives you a chance to finish off a round. Generally we’re just trying to hang on coming in and make a bunch of pars. But you’re trying to make a bunch of pars throughout most of the day, and then all of a sudden you’ve got to change gears. If you hit two good shots into 16 you’re going to have a wedge in there, which you should make birdie. Same thing on 17. And same thing on 18. So you have three holes back-to-back either you’re chipping, you’re wedging, so you’re going to have to make some birdies there, absolutely.
*On his preference of playing in tough, firm and fast conditions: Well, I think that over the years I’ve always preferred it to be like that. I’ve always preferred it to be more difficult, there’s no doubt. And I’ve always preferred it to be fast. I just like a fast golf course. Because then you have to shape shots. You have to think. You can’t set up and hit your ball to a number and have it plug. The ball is going to have run out, have chase, what shape shot you’re going to play. And the same things into the greens. That’s also the reason I love playing links golf, because the ball does chase, it does move, it does move on the ground. And when the golf course gets harder and faster it is certainly something I like.
Lots of good information there. If you follow me on Twitter, I know I’ve mentioned a few times that I have lots of pictures and videos from walking a practice round (Nos. 1-8) on Monday with Charlie Wi and Alistair Presnell.
For golf geeks, you’ll enjoy hearing Charlie and his caddie Mark Urbanek talk strategy on some of the holes. Stay tuned, but I put up some teaser photos on Twitter and Instagram — which, if you’re not already, you should follow both those accounts. I tweet and ‘gram some quality stuff when I’m on-site and don’t have time to put up a blog post.
(Getty Images/Andrew Redington)