Tiger upbeat (for now) despite pesky mud ball dilemma
By Stephanie Wei under Tiger Woods
Tiger sticking out his tongue at mud balls

Tiger sticking out his tongue at mud balls

Nearly a year ago, Tiger Woods started the final round of the Honda Classic trailing Rory McIlroy by nine shots. Tiger put on a solid come-from-behind performance, firing an impressive 62 — and just enough to let Rory consider his lead coming down the stretch to secure the win and his ascendance to the world’s No. 1 ranking.

Since then, Rory and Tiger have developed a strangely endearing and puzzling to some friendship and cordial rivalry, which was tattooed across headlines a gazillion times, causing the complete ruin of the word “bromance” (for me, personally). After Tiger finished knocking it around with some amateurs in the pro-am Wednesday morning at PGA National, he shared some insight into their friendship, changing equipment, and of course, the anchoring ban, among other topics.

Oh, by the way, he shot three-under 69 in the pro-am, and due to the somewhat oddly soft conditions in South Florida, he had 5 or 6 mud balls (Tiger loves those!). With all the rain this afternoon, expect he might have a few more when he tees off for the first round at 7:25am on Thursday. Luckily, he will keep count for us.

“The golf course has certainly got a lot of grass on it this year,” said Woods in his informal press conference. “The rough is up. The fairways are a bit watery. We had probably five or six mud balls today. Greens are running perfectly smooth. But there’s a little bit more grass on it than there was certainly last year for sure.”

Here are excerpts from his better-than-most presser:

*In case you didn’t want to assume anything since it seems like at least half of the Tour players have flip-flopped on their stance (or succumbed to peer pressure or compassion for several of their peers, which is understandable) regarding the USGA and R&A’s proposed rule to ban anchoring, Woods expectedly is sticking to his guns.

“My position hasn’t changed,” he said. “I still think that it should be swung, it shouldn’t be anchored, and that hasn’t changed at all. But obviously nothing is set in stone, nothing’s firm. The USGA and R&A are the governing bodies of our rules, and we’ll see what happens. Hopefully we don’t have to bifurcate or adapt a local rule like we do sometimes out here on Tour with the stones and bunkers and things of that nature. Hopefully we won’t have to do that with our putter.”

*On Commissioner Tim Finchem announcing the Tour’s position against the USGA’s proposed rule: “I understand that. I get it. I mean, the guys that play our Tour, all three of them play our Tour full-time, have won major championships with an anchored putter. I understand his position but I still feel that all 14 clubs should be swung. That hasn’t changed at all whatever.”

*On his relationship with Rory McIlroy: “He’s a friend of mine, who just happens to be the No. 1 player in the world. That’s about it.”

*On their private 36-hole match at Medalist last Sunday: “He moved down here, and we figured, let’s get a game sometime. We were kind of hoping that it wouldn’t be that Sunday, but we were both free, and went out and played. Played a quick 36, and he headed off to do whatever he needed to do, and I went back home and did some more training. ”

*On the contrast between his current relationship with McIlroy and his elder statesmen when Tiger was around Rory’s age: “I don’t think it’s quite the same level as I was with Mark (O’Meara) and Cookie (John Cook). Back in those days, those guys really took me under their wing. Went out to dinner all the time and basically travelled together on Tour, went fishing all the time. Whether it’s here in Florida, whether it’s to Alaska, we did a bunch of vacation trips together but they were like my big brothers at the time. They basically still are. It’s a different type of relationship.”

*On losing in the first round of the Match Play last week to Charles Howell III: “It’s different. Generally if you’re missing a cut, you’re probably not playing that well. I actually played well, and only played one day. So I missed a few putts out there, but other than that, I really played well and unfortunately I ran into a guy who also played well, actually better than I did. He made a couple more birdies, and that’s just the nature of the business in that format.

“You know, you can win matches, as I said, when I was out there, I’ve seen guys shoot 7under par and go home. I remember at La Costa, a guy shot 79 and moved on. It’s just the nature of the format.”

*On whether the current course conditions will change as the week progresses (FYI, we’re in for some not so great weather for South Florida): “I don’t think they are going to be changing that much. There’s so much water out there right now. It’s so soft, we’re picking up mud balls, and if we get anymore rain, it’s probably going to be even more of a factor. It will change, obviously it’s going to get cool, but it’s not going to dry it out enough.”

*On chasing Rory last year in the final round: “Well, it was not exactly best position to start off the round, that far back. I made a run and I thought it might get me into a situation where I might have a chance at a playoff. But Rory made a couple birdies down the stretch and basically iced it.”

*On Rory’s ascendency to No. 1 compared to his own: “I think Rory is doing a fantastic job. As far as in my career, it happened very quickly. I turned pro in August; I think by Augusta, somewhere in there, I became No. 1. So it was a bit quick. Just came out of college and next thing you know, I’m No. 1 player in the world. It was a little bit faster than what Rory has had. He’s had time to adapt and to grow into it. I think he’s done a fantastic job of it.”

*On Rory’s equipment change to Nike Golf, which is obviously Tiger’s sponsor, too: “I went through equipment changes over the years, but as I said, it’s over the years. There have been a lot of players who have done wholesale changes with sponsorships. I think Ernie has played for every company there is out there. There are a few guys who have done that and they have had a lot of success, and there are a lot of stories where they have not done well and been off the Tour soon.

“Rory, understandably, he’s going through the process. We talked about it a little bit. It is a process. The good news is about today’s equipment, we have so many different ways of testing it and tracking it and getting numbers, which back in the days even when I came up and obviously well before then, you didn’t have these numbers in which you can get your launch conditions, your spin rate, basically any kind of data you want, any kind of data you can get; that wasn’t the case.”

[Ed. note: In other words, Nike will find something that suits Rory.]

*On the different scheduling this year where there are two weeks between Bay Hill and the Masters: “I definitely will go to Augusta and play. Don’t know how many holes I’ll play. Sometimes it’s 18; sometimes it’s 36, but I’d like to get up there and take a look at it, they made a couple little changes here and there. Would like to chart those and get that all situated so that I don’t have to do any charting during the tournament week. ”

(AP Photo/Palm Beach Post, Bill Ingram)