No doubt Tiger Woods is the hands-down favorite headed into this week’s Masters. This might just finally be the week that he ends his almost five-year major-less drought. It’s also been nearly eight years since he won his fourth green jacket.
Asked what he would have thought had someone at the ceremony in 2005 told him that he wouldn’t win the Masters again until 2013, Woods replied, “I wouldn’t have been happy with that.”
Eight years ago, that would have seemed unfathomable. It is strange to think Tiger hasn’t won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open. Well, that streak will likely end on Sunday.
At his pre-Masters media conference on Tuesday, Woods was confident, composed and happy, which might be the key to his success this season as opposed to recent years. He exudes some of that aura of the old back. He laughed and he joked as he fielded questions from the press for just over 30 minutes.
Here are the highlights from his presser:
*On the course: The golf course is in fantastic shape. I came up here last Sunday on Easter and played 18 holes. Played this week, well, 14 holes on Sunday and played nine yesterday. The golf course is playing pretty long. It’s pretty dry. But the greens are coming up to speed and they are starting to get there. They have the ability right now, I think, that they can basically put this golf course however they want. They can slow it down. Won’t take much to speed it up. And it’s going to be, hopefully going to be a dry Masters and we get to have some excitement out there.
*On nos. 7 and 11 at Augusta National since they’ve been lengthened: I’ve played the old holes, it was a 1-iron when I first got here back when we used to use 1-irons off of 7. Then it was a 2-iron down there and you’d have somewhere — get down to the bottom, a little flat spot on the right-hand side and have anywhere between 9-iron to sand wedge and play that hole. Of years past, when we’ve had a little easterly wind, I’ve hit 3-wood and I’ve hit 4-iron, not exactly a green you hit a 4-or 5-iron into. So it’s a tricky little tee shot. They have planted a bunch of trees on the left-hand and right-hand side. 11 is a way different hole. We didn’t have that span of trees down the right-hand side that we do now, and the tee was much, much farther up and to the left. We used to be able to hit driver down there. I remember playing with like Seve and Raymond always said to just hit it over where the gallery is, that’s the angle you want to come from. Well, you can’t get over there anymore, the hole is playing to the left. It’s a much different hole. We are hitting a good drive, will leave me somewhere between 8-iron to a 5-iron in there, whereas before it was a driver and a sand wedge, pitching wedge.
*On getting back to no. 1 in the world and whether or not there was a time he questioned himself: No, there wasn’t, because I wasn’t physically capable of doing it. I wasn’t healthy enough. Couldn’t practice, couldn’t play, sat out major championships and just wasn’t able to do any of the sessions that I needed to do to improve. And I was making a swing change with Sean. So all that happened at the same time, so the number one concern, number one intent was, first of all, get healthy, get strong enough where I can practice. And once I started to be able to practice, things turned and they turned quickly.
*On how comfortable he feels with his game right now: I feel comfortable with every aspect of my game. I feel that I’ve improved and I’ve got more consistent, and I think the wins show that. That’s something that I’m proud of so far this year, and hopefully I can continue it this week and the rest of the year.
*On whether that’s different compared to two or three years ago: Well, last year, I won my first event in a couple years at Bay Hill. And you know, so that was a big difference. Since then, I’ve won six times in 12 months. So those are all positive things heading into this week. You know, playing well in the Florida Swing, winning twice there, and then headed up here, I feel very comfortable with where things are at.
*On whether he’s happier and if that’s translating to his golf: Well, I think life is all about having a balance, and trying to find equilibrium and not getting things one way or the other, and I feel very balanced.
*On how much putting is a factor to winning and contending at Augusta: Absolutely. I was there ball-striking-wise a few years through that stretch where I think I hit it pretty well. Hit a lot of greens, but just didn’t make enough putts. I was there on Sundays with a chance, and unfortunately just didn’t get it done. But as we all know, you have to putt well here. You have to make a lot of putts. The other person that theoretically didn’t really putt well was Vijay when he won, and he hit more greens than anybody has ever hit to do it. But generally, you have to make your putts. You have to make the majority of the putts inside ten feet, and you’ve got to be just a great lag putter for the week. You’re going to put the ball in some spots, especially if the wind blows the way it is, it’s going to be tough to get the ball close.
*On whether or not winning fixes everything (referring to the Nike ad after Woods won at Bay Hill to regain the world no. 1 ranking): Well, I’ve said that since the beginning of my career. That’s something you guys have asked me about, what does it take to become No. 1, Player of the Year, money title and all that, and I’ve said that from the very get-go when I first turned pro. That was an old quote that Nike put out there and people jumped on it, but that’s something I’ve said since I’ve first turned pro.
*On how much more difficult it is emotionally, physically and mentally to win a major compared to a regular PGA Tour event: Well, there’s only four. I mean, you can play 30-some-odd events. Obviously the opportunities are four more when you play regular events, there’s only four of these, and these are always the toughest conditions and also the best fields. So we have a lot of tests for here, as for this championship, the greens are always the biggest key here. Now with the length and the second cut and more grass in the fairways, it tests every facet of your game. That’s what major championships are supposed to do. This is our first opportunity of four.
*On his first memories at Amen Corner: You know, I first came out here, a Monday afternoon, in ’95. And I played and I hit driver off the 10th, the old tee, when it was farther up and to the right. Didn’t know; you know, just drove it down there, drove it right in the bunker. Okay, that’s not going to work. You know, play 11, and I couldn’t believe how expansive; TV doesn’t do it justice how expansive it is from that whole open area on 12 and 13. And certainly, the commentators try and give it justice, but I don’t think they really can, of how much it swirls. You hear guys trying, saying, don’t pull a club on 12 until you see both flags on 11 and 12 are moving the same direction. They are never, ever moving the same direction (laughter). You can play — I’ve played it so many times where I’ve played 11, 12 and 13 either all downwind or all into the wind. You just — how does that work? You know, you get down there and Bobby Jones has turned this fan on down there and it swirls (laughter).
*On whether or not he’s checked out the site on no. 10 in the trees where Bubba Watson hit the dramatic wedge shot that set him up for the win last year: First of all, no, I haven’t looked over there. Don’t want to be over there (laughter). Second of all, I think that obviously a right-hander could pull that off, because you know, we’re cutting it, and lining into the hill. Him being a lefty, it helped being so far down there where I think he hit a wedge in there; that he was able to hook it, but also have the slope from right-to-left so he could kill it into the hill. Now if it was running the other way and had the slope been going from left-to-right, at this green speed, he wouldn’t have been able to keep the ball on the green. Certainly it helped that he had a wedge, had some loft, be able to curve it and obviously be able to spin it into that hill, and he pulled off an unbelievable shot that will certainly go down as one of the best ones ever.
*On whether being a parent has interfered with his quest to winning majors: No, life is better. Life is better since I’ve had kids.
*On juggling golf and parenting: It’s a beautiful juggling act (smiling). I think as people who are all parents in here will certainly attest to that; that’s the joy in life and to be able to be a part of their life and watch them grow and help them grow. Getting out there and taking them on the golf course with me every now and again, they will have a great time. To me, that’s what it’s all about. That’s how I was introduced to the game, and that’s how I built such a great relationship with my father is to be able to spend that quality time out there on the course like that. I’ve been lucky enough to have a nice little setup in the backyard, so can hit a few wedge shots and the kids will come out and enjoy it, too, as well.
*On 14-year-old Tianlang Guan playing in the Masters: Well, as I was saying to some of the guys yesterday, I mean, this kid can’t play high school golf. He’s not in high school yet. So it’s hard to believe. When I was 14, I was trying to get on — trying to play more tournaments and I was running track and cross-country; you know, trying to get homework done. I couldn’t imagine not just playing in a Tour event, but the Masters.
*On his game at 14 compared to Guan’s game at 14: You know, I think I was probably longer at the time. Granted, Dustin and I were talking about this, we were the longest of our generations, so it’s a different game. But he’s so consistent. He was hitting a lot of hybrids into the holes yesterday, hitting them spot on, right on the numbers. He knew what he was doing, he knew the spots he had to land the ball, and to be able to pull it off. Good scouting, good prep, but also even better execution. From a 14-year-old to be able to come out here and handle himself the way he’s done is just unbelievable.
*On what it would mean to win a major at this point in his career: Well, it would be nice. That’s something that I’m certainly looking forward to the opportunity to dothis week. You know, that’s one of the neat things about our career; it’s so long. We have an opportunity to play basically 30 years solidly at a high level. Some of the guys have come out here at 20 and done well into their 50s. We have very expansive careers and I feel like I’m basically right in the middle of mine. I have a lot of good years ahead of me and I’m excited about this week.
*On playing in his 19th Masters: Yeah, scary. Coming up on my 20th. I never would have foreseen that, when I first came here at 19 years old. It was a bit overwhelming to play here and to be part of the Masters, to stay in the Crow’s Nest and accidentally run into the champion’s locker room and all those different things. Got to watch Gene Sarazen and Byron Nelson tee off on that first hole, Sam Snead. It was just incredible. To be a part of that, and to see how it’s changed over the years, and to have won it, and I got lucky, I won my first professional event here. It was nice to be able to do that and know that I can come back here basically for my entire lifetime.
*On no longer playing in practice rounds at the crack of dawn: Just wanted to mess with you (laughter) (smiling broadly). Did it work? Maybe?
*On whether he would typecast his game to fit at certain courses or if he has an all-around game to suit courses he hasn’t had success on in the past: I think both. Just because I think that, well, over the course of my career, there are courses where I didn’t really feel that comfortable on, but I’ve won tournaments on, won major championships on. But it didn’t necessarily fit my eye, but you still have to execute. There are other golf courses where they really fit my eye and I’ve had a lot of success on them. So this being one of the golf courses where over the course of my career, I’ve won or contended a bunch of times.
*On how he overcomes courses that don’t fit his eye: Just figure it out. It’s one week and just have to figure it out. A lot of times it’s major championships where the golf course doesn’t quite work, but you’ve got to figure it out. You know, one of the courses was Tulsa. That didn’t quite fit my eye, but I ended up winning. Hoylake wasn’t a golf course that really fit my eye, but I won there, as well.
*On Augusta National inviting female members to join last year: I think it’s fantastic. The club, it was the right timing. And well, for me, knowing Condoleezza over all these years, couldn’t have had a better person, and got a chance to see her on Sunday. She just finished up playing, I think, with Phil and a couple other people. Yeah, I think it’s just fantastic. And the timing’s right.
*More on the 14-year-old Tianlang Guan, who he played a practice round with on Sunday: Well, first off, I think going to China for a number of years now, it’s just amazing to see the amount of talent that they have, and at such a young age. They have a lot of players who can play. It’s just about giving them enough starts and enough opportunities, and they are going to be, you know, out here on Tour or playing other tours, but they are coming, and he’s one of them. To see him hit the ball out there at 12, we knew he was going to be good; we didn’t think he was going to be in the Masters in two years. To win a golf tournament — and we were talking about it yesterday; that he led the entire way. That’s pretty impressive. And to win the Asian Amateur like that, and we were talking about how he made a putt on the last hole from eight feet, you know, what were you thinking? Just making it. He’s 14, you know. Good stuff.
*On how he’s adjusted his approach to the course over the years as it has changed, along with his game: First year I played here in competition, it was kind of a drizzly day, and I hit a driver and a 60-degree sand wedge into the first hole. What bunker? You know, that was a different golf course then. 5 was different, carry it over the top of the bunker and have another little sand wedge in there. It was 50/50 I could hit the green with a sand wedge back then, but it was nice having sand wedges in. But the golf course is so different. The length, not only the tee angles, but they have changed 13 quite a bit, added a couple trees in there. It’s mostly angles, and then trying to make us play from virtually the same spots that the guys from yesteryear played. I think the difference is that the golf balls don’t spin as much, so if you want us to hit 5-irons and 6-irons, well, we are not hitting with as much spin. The ball just doesn’t spin as much, so it’s coming at a different angle. That’s obviously one of the challenges. But also a 5-iron now for most guys are about 220-ish. I think Jack hit 5-iron on 16 when he won in ’86, and you know, we are hitting mostly 8-irons and 9-irons now to the same number. It’s a different game.
*On a rivalry between him and Rory and going head-to-head together on Sunday: Well, I’d like to be there first, and we’ll figure out who is there, as well. But my main responsibility is to get there and then be part of that mix.
*On whether he’d trade the no. 1 ranking for another major: Oh, absolutely. Are you kidding me?
*On whether it feels like a long time ago that he won the Masters: It does. I put myself in the mix every year but last year, and that’s the misleading part is that it’s not like I’ve been out of there with no chance of winning this championship. I’ve been there, and unfortunately just haven’t got it done. I’ve made runs to get myself in it. I’ve been there in the mix on the back nine, either not executed, not made enough putts or didn’t take care of the par 5s, or whatever it may be. I’ve been in the mix, just I haven’t got it done.
*On how surprised he is that he hasn’t won the Masters in so long: Well, I’m not surprised that I haven’t gave myself chances. Obviously not real happy with the fact that I haven’t won more. I’ve been in the mix and as I said, just haven’t gotten it done. But the whole idea is to give myself opportunities, and as of right now, I’m tied for second on the all-time win list here, so that’s not too bad, either.
*On whether he’s won a major with a goatee: Never won a major with a goatee on, no, because it takes a long time for this thing to grow, you know.
*On whether the confidence helps him putt and chip better when he’s flushing the ball like he is now: I think it’s the overall game. It’s prep and winning golf tournaments. I’m pleased at the progress I’ve made with Sean and the things we’ve done. To going from where I went from at 58 in the world to get to where I’m at now, I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made. The confidence comes from being able to do it on the range first, and being able to do it at Medalist back home and come out here and do it consistently and I’m starting to do that. The wins have piled up the last couple years.
*On whether there was a moment things clicked in his work with Sean Foley: I don’t think it has. We’re still always messing with things, tinkering around with things. I mean, things are always — golf’s fluid. We are always trying to get a little bit better somehow and refine it, and there’s always room for refinement. That will never change.
*On whether he feels more pressure to win majors now than he used to: No. Still the same. These are our four biggest events. They are the best events to play in, the toughest conditions, best fields and the most demanding and challenging. I mean, that’s what you want. That’s the fun part. refinement. That will never change.
*On whether getting to 19 majors and passing Jack Nicklaus’ record is still important as it used to be: Yeah, it is. I would like to be able to get to that point. It took Jack a while to get to 18, all the way until he was 46 years old. So there’s plenty of opportunities for me.
*On whether he considers Rory McIlroy to be his main rival: I think that over the course of my career, I’ve had a few. You know, certainly Rory is this generation. I’ve had Phil and Vijay and Ernie and David for a number of years, and now Rory’s the leading of this new, younger generation. So yes, definitely.
(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)