AT&T National host Tiger Woods, who was cheery and chatty (by Tiger standards), greeted the media on Tuesday afternoon at Congressional Country Club — after a two-year hiatus where it was contested at Aronimink GC — for his pre-tournament presser. Of course, the most-anticipated question: What happened over the weekend at Olympic, where you were in prime position to grab victory by its throat and break the major-less since ’08 steak?
Well, there was no beating around the bush! — First question:
Q. Coming off the (U.S.) Open, do you take more from the first two days or the last two days?
TIGER WOODS: I think that overall it was‑‑ the way I struck the golf ball was‑‑ I was very pleased by that. I didn’t particularly chip or putt well that week, something that I had done at Memorial. I just didn’t do that week, and obviously at the Open, that’s just one of the things you have to do, and I didn’t do that. I didn’t make anything from 15 or 20 feet. I made a bunch of putts from 8 to 10 feet and in, but I didn’t make any other putts.
That week I played very conservative. My game plan worked for the first couple days. I was playing away from a lot of flags, lag putting, but I didn’t make anything. I need to hit the ball a little bit closer than I did that week.
Q. A lot has been made about your U.S. Open performance. Concerned about the way things went on Saturday and Sunday? There are those out there that feel you regressed, went backwards, which hasn’t been your pattern for the most part in majors.
TIGER WOODS: No, it was one of those weekends where I just didn’t quite get everything out of my rounds. I was so close on Saturday to getting a good round out of it, and I didn’t. You know, it’s just one of those things where a fraction off on particularly that U.S. Open venue, or a fraction off, balls that land in the fairway don’t stay in the fairway, and I kept hitting the edge of the fairways and going in the rough. There you’ve not only got to hit the ball in the middle but you’ve got to hit the ball in the middle with the correct shape. Being a fraction off, certainly it showed up on Saturday, and the beginning of Sunday for sure. But I got it back towards the end of it, played 3‑under coming in, and that was something positive.
Yada, yada, yada. Tell me something new. Ha!
Onward. Highlights and excerpts from the rest of his length presser:
*On his preference of playing Congo when conditions are quick (duh): ” I like it quick, because it certainly puts a premium on shaping shots, and more than anything, keeping the ball under the hole. I mean, really got to try and keep it under the hole. We’ve seen what this place can do when it gets soft, you know, and what the guys can shoot. But I think this week with the weather forecast with it supposed to be as hot as it’s supposed to be, I don’t think we’re going to quite see it as fast as it is right now. They’re going to have to put some water on it to try to keep it alive.”
*On how much he’s practiced since Olympic: “I didn’t really practice a lot this week. I was with my kids, and I got away from the game, and I was just present with them.”
*On how difficult it is to get pumped up for a regular event when he’s won so many majors: “Well, that’s one of the reasons I don’t play that much is to make sure that I’m focused and I’m excited, I’m ready, physically fit and mentally ready to play. You know, if I played 30 times a year, 30 plus times a year, I don’t think I would be as ready as I am each and every week I tee it up. And when I think of how my career has turned out, I think I’ve done the right thing.”
*On wanting to win the regular tournaments: “Absolutely I want to win, and I certainly want to win, and I think that, as I said, over the course of my career, being able to practice and be ready to play, I think that’s been very important to me. I’ve always enjoyed practicing and practicing my way into a tournament. Some guys like to play their way into shape and play. They don’t really practice a lot. I’m one of those guys that just really enjoys practicing.”
*On why Jack Nicklaus’ majors record gets so much more attention than Sam Snead’s PGA Tour wins record: “Well, I think it’s the same thing, why was Pete Sampras’ record so much greater than what Jimmy Connors has done? No one really knows how many wins he’s had. I don’t know, is it over 100? I believe it’s over 100. But I think that the majors certainly have more importance, and we put so much more on it, especially now. I think that with the media and the way it’s been, I think that there’s so much more media coverage and more attention on major championships. Certainly that’s something that wasn’t exactly in Jack’s day and obviously prior to him. And I think that’s just the way it is. Our big events are big, and they’re bigger than any other events that we play.”
[*Ed note: Most impressive part is Tiger knowing around how many wins Jimmy Connors has…]
*On why majors are harder to win than regular events..: “Well, majors are a harder event because, one, you’re going to have the best fields, and two, you’re going to have the most difficult setups that we play all year. Three of the four rotate, so you don’t get the consistency of‑‑ even Augusta, they seem to change it most years. So there’s no real consistency to the major championships. You’re obviously going back to venues that you haven’t played in over a decade and you’re having to relearn a golf course where they’ve either changed pars like they did at Pebble Beach, changed tees, changed fairway lines, so you have to relearn a golf course for a week.”
*On why Tiger won’t putt with a belly/long putter: “I’ve tried it, and my stroke is infinitely worse. It’s just not good. I like the flow of my stroke. I like how I putt. Putting with anchoring or even different configurations of a standard grip, my stroke doesn’t flow at all. I think I’ve done all right with mine, and I think I’m going to stick with it.”
*On whether Congo is a good test or not on progressing to win a regular event before a major: “I see what you’re saying. Yeah, there is. I went through a period there in, what, ’97, ’98 where I didn’t really do anything in major championships, and then finally ended up‑‑ I had a pretty good year in ’99, at the beginning of the year I won a few tournaments, and then finally put it together at the PGA. And the same thing when I‑‑ was it ’03, ’04, I didn’t really do anything in the majors, as well, and finally put it together in ’05 and ’06. I’ve been through this before, been through a process like this, and then certainly this golf course is just a fantastic golf course, and it’s very different than what we’re going to be facing a month from now, but it’s still a great test.”
[*Ed note: I thought winning the Memorial was a great sign and test of Tiger being “ready” to win a major again, but alas, here we are again.]
*On the evolution of Lebron James: “Well, I think what he did in The Finals is just absolutely amazing. Actually the whole year. People forget he was MVP of the year. He had an unbelievable Playoffs. He showed every single facet of his game. Things he needed to work on versus last year showed up and were not just‑‑ they didn’t show up, but they were dominant. It’s pretty neat to see somebody who’s that talented work on his game and then display it under the most extreme conditions. We saw it with M.J.; he couldn’t jump over everybody with the Pistons and eventually learned a different shot, and he mastered going off his right hand, left shoulder. It didn’t matter, he could fade away either shoulder.
To me it’s just amazing to watch player development like that.”
*On comparing Lebron’s career to his own: “As far as the other part of your question, I think that what he did, going into the NBA at age 18 is very different. I went to college for two years and had that type of environment to grow and learn. He went straight into the NBA and was a professional, and that’s a big change. That’s a big jump from playing high school ball to professionals, and we find the same thing out here. Guys who go from amateur golf and straight into the big leagues, it’s tough. You know, he did a fantastic job. He grew. We saw him physically grow but also mature into his game over the years, and it’s fun to just sit back and watch. I think that we should all look at what he’s done and just sit back and watch one of the greatest players to ever play.”
I thought this question was interesting and worth quoting…
Q. That was really interesting about the players who adapted their games and learned. I wonder if M.J. learning to alter his game after he couldn’t jump over everybody is similar to you making swing changes to compensate for your knee.
TIGER WOODS: Absolutely, absolutely. I didn’t want to play the way I did because it hurt, and it hurt a lot. Was I good at it? Yeah, I was good at it, but I couldn’t go down that road, and there’s no way I could have had longevity in the game if I would have done that. Four knee surgeries later, here we are. I finally have a swing that it doesn’t hurt, and I am still generating power, but it doesn’t hurt anymore.
*On whether or not he’s “back” until he wins a major and whether that’s unfair criticism: “Well, I think it’s something that I’ve done over the years. I’ve won major championships, and I haven’t done it since ’08. We all go through periods where that doesn’t happen. Some periods are entire careers. But I think I understand how to win major championships. The key is just giving yourself chances. That’s the key, giving yourself opportunities on the back nine on Sunday each and every time. That’s one of the reasons why Jack was so good at it. He won 18, but you think about it, he finished second 19 times, so he was there. You’re not going to win them all, but if you’re there a lot, chances are you’re going to win your share. ”
*On Patrick Cantlay turning pro after his sophomore year at UCLA: “Well, I think he did the right thing in turning pro a little bit earlier. I think that Justin Leonard did the same thing, turned pro right after the Open and played his way and got a TOUR card. I think that gives you the best chance. You play the Masters, you get the U.S. Open, you get a couple majors under your belt, you get to play with your team in college, play your entire collegiate schedule, and now you’ve got a lot of tournaments under your belt, and then go ahead and turn pro and try and get your card. For me in ’96 it was a little bit different story. I had a chance to make history. No one has ever won three Amateur Championships, and that was important to me, to at least give it a run.
“One of the things that I conversed with my dad at the time is that I didn’t quite feel I was quite good enough to be a pro yet, until I played the British Open at Lytham and had a really good I think second round. At the time I was either tied or broke the lowest amateur record for a British Open, and to me that was important. It gave me a good sign that, you know what, I think I can do this, and let me see if I can get the Amateur first, and then if I can get the Amateur, go ahead and turn pro, and that’s what ended up happening.”
*On turning pro early because of the Q-school system changes that start next year: “Yeah, you know what, it’s probably more advantageous to turn pro a little bit earlier now because we don’t have that‑‑ if it does get passed, you don’t have that Q‑school carrot at the end of it. You have to go through the Nationwide Tour and spend a year out there and hopefully get your card in a year, unless you win three tournaments and get your battle field. But I think if you want to do it, I think that it’s more advantageous to turn pro early, then if you finish top 10 you don’t have to use your exemption the next week; you’re automatically exempt into the next week. It starts going, and you can build momentum that way.
“But that Q‑school carrot is always kind of in the back of your mind. I remember when Curtis Strange was a prime example of that. They had two Q‑schools at the time. He missed the first one, ended up getting the second one, the same year. That’s a different time, and obviously we’ve changed away from that and had one and potentially this one is not going to get the guys out here on Tour.”
*On using his influence to extend 17-year-old Beau Hossler a sponsor’s exemption: “What he did at the U.S. Open is pretty remarkable. You know, it’s consistency and handling that golf course and being as consistent as he was, but on that big a stage. That was impressive to see. He’s going to college, obviously going to go to UT, I believe, and that’s going to be a great experience for him. Fantastic team, obviously they just won the National Championship, so he’s going to go out for that team, and it’s going to be fun for him.”
Whew. That’s all for now.
Oh, expect the Congressional to bare more teeth than it did last June when Rory McIlroy ripped it apart and shot a record-breaking 16-under to cruise to his first major championship.
(Getty Images/Andrew Redington)