About a quarter past 11 this morning, Tiger Woods strolled onto the far left-side of the driving range at The Ocean Course. He went through his usual routine, hitting some wedges and then worked his way through the bag to driver eventually. Swing instructor Sean Foley watched and took videos, which he’d show Tiger and briefly chat. Then repeat. Per usual, he drew a horde (and I found it entertaining to take pictures of people taking pictures).
I wasn’t surprised to see Tiger was striping his irons and driver. His ballstriking has overall been solid since The Memorial Tournament (his wedges and putting hasn’t been consistent). I stopped and closed my eyes — something a friend suggested as I walk down the range because if I’m not “hearing it,” then I’m not “listening.
Sure enough. The sound was pure. One even caught my attention when I had turned away (probably take more pictures of fans taking pictures). So crisp.
Anyway, Tiger timed it perfectly. As he was winding down his practice session at about 11:50am, the horn sounded, signaling another (the fourth, to be exact) thunderstorm was on its way. His press conference was scheduled for noon.
He took a seat on the stage and we could hear the rain pounding atop the media center tent. (It was so loud it was tough to hear at times.) He was in good spirits and gave thoughtful answers, relatively speaking. In fact, when he was asked whether it was harder to win a major than it was 10 years ago, Woods, who misheard the scribe and thought he said 3 years ago,
(subconscious?) replied, “Is it harder?” <<pause, thinking>> “Well, I haven’t won one, so probably.”
When it was clarified that the original question was asking him about 10 years ago, not three, he said: “Oh, 10 years ago? Yeah, there’s more players with a chance now. I think that the fields are so much more deep than they used to be, and it’s only going to get (more) that way.”
Alright, here are highlights from his presser:
*On his general impressions of the course: “I played here last Tuesday, and it had rained they said close to almost two inches the day before, and it played soft. You know, I figured it would probably dry out, but it doesn’t look like we’re going to get dry weather this week. It’s soft out there. The ball is not picking up mud, which is nice. The fairways are perfect, greens are perfect. It’s just going to be just a touch on the long side because it’s just not rolling out. But all that being said, the greens are still pretty receptive, which is nice, and it’s just going to be if the PGA decides to play it all the way back, it’s just going to be a big ballpark.
*On comparing (and contrasting) The Ocean Course to another major championship venue: “I think it’s you know, of anything that’s close would be Whistling Straits; same architect being Pete. But again, played totally differently. A lot of mounding and a lot of movement in its designs. One of the things you learn about Pete’s golf courses, a lot of it is visual. There’s a lot more room out there, whether it’s on the fairways or on the greens, than you think. He just makes you look the other way. And he’s a masterful designer in that way. And he always likes to present a lot of the targets at angles if you’re aggressive, it can play very short, and if you’re hitting it well off the tees — the golf courses that he designs are not very long if you’re able to be aggressive off the tees. But if you play conservative, he gives you a lot more room, but also you’re far away from the green all the time. He’s a wonderful designer. And this week is it’ll be interesting how they set up the golf course because it could play really long or they could move it up and have us have a go at it.”
*On 16 majors being won by 16 different winners: “Well, golf is getting deep. There’s so many guys with a chance to win. I think that’s kind of how, I think, sport is. The margin is getting smaller. There may be 16 different winners, but you look at the cuts, the cuts are getting lower. The scores between the leader and the guy who is 70th and tied, sometimes it’s 10 shots or less, which is amazing. The margins are so small; and hence, if you’ve got margins that are that small, you’re going to get guys who win once here and there.”
*On whether he wants the course soft: “I’m just curious to see how they’re going to play it. We’ve played it in our practice rounds all the way back, except for a couple holes that they say they’re going to use a different tee box, and got a feel for that. But other than that, with it being as soft as it is, I would think they’re going to play it long, probably more so after the cut is made, to make sure everyone gets around here. I don’t think they’re probably going to play it brutally the first couple days just because we’re going to have thunder storms and it’s going to be hard to get everyone around and they want everyone to play a little bit quicker, but I’m sure come the weekend it’ll be a little different story.”
*On whether he likes Pete Dye’s courses: “I do like Pete’s courses. He makes you think, which I like, instead of just going out there and hitting a golf ball. He makes you make a decision off the tees, he makes you make a decision into the greens and makes you leave the ball in the correct spot. The thing about Pete is if you miss your spots, you’re going to get penalized severely, and I think that’s more so than any other course designer. But he gives you a lot of room. Probably the only place that isn’t like that is probably Sawgrass. But it originally wasn’t like how it is now. It was tight but there was no rough, so everyone ran into the palmetto bushes; that was your rough. But as an overall, the golf courses that I have played that are Pete’s, I do like them, just because of the fact that you have to think. You can’t just go up there and just swing away and hit it and go find it. You’ve got to really think about what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it.
*On ocean-based courses: “Well, I think this being so close to the ocean, the dunes and the marshes that they have here, it just drains unbelievably well. I think that playing through the dunes like we do here; one, it’s pretty, you’re right along the ocean; and two, no matter how much rain we get (thunder claps overheard) we are getting dumped on right now; it’s going to drain pretty quickly. And it being paspalum, we’re not going to get a lot of mud balls. You may get a few here and there, but this grass just doesn’t stick that way. I like what this golf course has, and it’s just a wonderful piece of property.
*On whether there’s an urgency to catch Jack (Nicklaus’) majors record: Well, I figure it’s going to take a career. It’s going to take a long time. Jack didn’t finish his until he was 46, so if you go by that timetable, I’ve got 10 more years. Four more majors is a lot. I’ve got plenty of time. With the training regimes that we have now and seeing guys play well, you can get on the right golf course and contend. You saw what happened with Tom being 59, Greg almost did it at Birkdale at 55-ish or something like that, 54. So we can play late in our careers just because of our training; and also just getting the right golf course. You know, who knows.”
*On the rain delays: “We’re so accustomed to it. Rain delays is part of summer months. We had one last week on Sunday, so not too long ago. I live in Florida, so we get the popup storms every day, so this is nothing new. As long as we get enough time to loosen up and warm up and get back into rhythm, that’s fine. Sometimes it gets a little difficult at times when they keep you in the vans and you cool off and then they don’t bring you in, you go back out. That’s a little bit more difficult. It’s part of playing in the summer in the South. It’s just going to happen.”
*On greater depth of fields compared to 10 years ago: “Yeah, I think that’s part of it, but if you just make the cut nowadays you’re within nine shots of the lead sometimes. That’s easily doable on a weekend. And it’s just amazing, as I said, you’ve got 70plus guys within 10 shots it seems like at every Tour event. That wasn’t always the case. It used to be 14, 15 shots sometimes; but it’s just so much smaller now, the margins.”
*On the new tee at the par-4 No. 12 at The Ocean Course and whether he’ll try to drive the green: That’s a great question. When we first played it, we played the 466 plate that’s out there. And then we come here again, and it’s now 412, and then they’ve got one at 305 front. It’s going to be if you get the right conditions, I could see guys doing it, whatever the right conditions are for them, whether they like to fade it, draw, whatever the right conditions are I could see guys going for it. For me, I think it’s going to be having the right conditions and where the pin is and whether I go or not. You can make 3 or 2 by going, but you also bring in a high number by going, as well. If you lay up, it’s going to be like a 6-iron and a sand wedge, and you limit all the high numbers. As I said, I think at the time it’ll just be a feel thing.”
*On which players he likes to watch: I like watching Hunter (Mahan) hit balls because Hunter and I think Hunter likes watching me hit balls. We have the exact opposite flaws. The things I’m trying to do, he does well, and the things that I do well, he’s trying to get to do. So, Sean (Foley, who teaches Tiger and Mahan) had to put his thinking cap on on that one because we’re exact polar opposites. We kid each other all the time about what we’re working on. I try to emulate some of his stuff, and it looks awful on film, and he tries to do what I do and it doesn’t look very good on film, either. But we’re trying to implement certain parts of our swings, and it’s been good to be able to have play practice rounds with Hunter and to be able to see those things up close and personal.”
*On the return of golf as an Olympic sport in 2016: “Well, since we haven’t done it in a very long time, it’ll be something else to be able to represent our country like that in the Olympic Games. I hopefully will be able to have qualified at that point in time, and I’ll be 40 years old at the time. It’ll be exciting to be able to represent our country like that and go down to Brazil and do something that is basically I won’t say it’s inaugural, but in essence it hasn’t been there in a long time. So I think we’d probably look at it as that, having golf be represented in the Olympic Games, and I think we would want to represent our countries, whatever country we’re from, represent it well.”
*On whether he’s encouraged or discouraged by his results in the majors this year: “I think it’s both. I’m pleased at the way I was able to play at certain parts of it and at certain times, and obviously disappointed that I did not win. I’ve played in three major championships this year, and I didn’t win any of them. So that’s the goal. I was there at the U.S. Open after two days and I was right there with a chance at the British Open. Things have progressed, but still, not winning a major championship doesn’t feel very good.”
*On whether it’s a benefit to him that the course is probably going to play longer: “I like the test that a firm golf course brings. It just brings more shotmaking into the equation. You have to throw the ball up, but you throw the ball up with the right spin. You’ve got to land the ball in the correct spots. With it a little bit softer like this, the greens will be holding. But then again, with it being like this, there’s no bumpandrun. It’s just too soft. So now you’re going to have to throw the ball up or play some kind of one-hop-and-stop spinner in there. There will be very few hybrids or I’m sure long-iron, mid-iron bump-and-run shots. You just won’t see it that often just because now it’s going to be too soft for that play to work. This paspalum (grass on the greens) is very sticky, and obviously if it runs off, you’re going to have pitching into the grain, and it’s just not going to skip.”
*On his chances to win this year versus last year: “Yeah, the last couple years my game was not where it’s at right now. This year I’ve won three tournaments, and it’s been a pretty good year. I’ve been in there with a chance to win a few more. It’s a totally different physically my game is way different than what it was last year. It’s been nice to be able to practice after each round, to have that option. That wasn’t the case last year. My game has improved because of it, and here we are.”
Near the end of the press conference, it started raining so hard that Tiger couldn’t hear the question (I was sitting in front of the scribe who was using the microphone and had a hard time hearing).
I’m undecided whether the soft conditions will make it an advantage or disadvantage for Tiger. At first I thought it’d benefit him since he’s hitting the ball well and can attack pins, but then again, it makes the course more forgiving and opens the door for players who aren’t hitting the best shots but getting away with the mistakes that would otherwise be (more) penal.
For what it’s worth, he seems to be in good spirits. Let’s hope that continues as the week progresses…
(Getty Images/Andrew Redington)