Before Tiger Woods arrived in Ohio to defend his title at Jack Nicklaus’ tournament, the Memorial, he made an important pit stop in the Philadelphia area. Similar to his preparation for last year’s U.S. Open, he visited Merion Golf Club, the site of this year’s championship, for the first time on Tuesday.
He was accompanied by longtime Merion member Buddy Marucci, whom he beat in the 1995 U.S. Amateur, while he played in the pouring rain with only several onlookers. The trip was top secret, so Woods could do his work in private — just the way he likes it.
On Wednesday after he finished playing in the pro-am, Tiger, who has won four times already this season, met with the press and talked about his impressions of Merion, his feud with Sergio Garcia and his affinity for Jack’s place.
Here are the highlights:
*On initial impressions: “From what everyone said, I did not have the inkling that it was going to be as long as it was. As I said, it was raining sideways and it was just an ugly day. We played it as probably long as it will ever be played.
“In June, obviously the weather won’t be like that. It will be hotter. The ball will be flying. The clubs will be different, but the lines will be the same. It was nice to see and get an understanding of what I need to visualize and my prep next week and get ready for that. Have a nice understanding of where my sight lines are going to be and where I need to land the ball. Obviously it will be different clubs. Won’t be quite as long as it was playing yesterday.”
Well, given the weather we’ve had this year, I wouldn’t be surprised! Plus, it’s in two weeks!
*On the long stretch of par-4s in the middle stretch of holes at Merion: “Excluding the length of some of the holes, those par-3s are really long and some of the par-4s are really long. The middle stretches, if it dries out and it plays firm and fast, it’s very similar to what we face in the sandbelt courses. It’s sometimes 5-irons off the tees. The ball is going to be running, it’s going to be chasing. You have a wedge in. Doesn’t mean you are going to make birdie. Some guys will be making bogeys. It’s hard to hit some of these fairways even with those clubs. If they start tucking these pins and start getting them as fast as they want to have them, you will be firing away from the flags even with the sand wedge. As I said, very similar to what we face on the sandbelt.”
*On the great history at Merion: “If you look at the list of champions, they have all been really good shotmakers. They have all been able to shape the golf ball. I think that’s what it lends itself to. I mean, you have to be able to shape the golf ball. And you have to be so disciplined to play that course.
“And if you look at the list of champions, they are very disciplined players. You play to certain spots. You play to certain spots on the greens. You leave yourself certain putts and you deal with it and you move on. Sometimes you may have a short iron or wedge into the hole. Even like the 13th, you are teeing off with a pitching wedge. They have an up tee that they’ve cordoned it off, so you might be hitting a 60-degree or sand wedge into a par-3. If they put the pin right, you are not going to be firing at it. So you have to be disciplined.
“It’s like when we played at Pebble and that seventh hole, they moved it to the up tee, far right pin, you have 60-degree sand wedge in your hand and you are not taking a run at that flag. You’re putting it 15 feet left of the flag and moving on. This is a golf course very similar to that. You have to be able to put the ball in the correct spots and be disciplined about it.”
*On how many drivers he thinks he’ll hit at Merion: “Well, yesterday I hit quite a few just because of the conditions. You know, it’s all dependent on where if it dries out or not. If it plays long, there are certain holes that are long holes. You have got to get it down there. If it dries out, you know for instance, we hit at the PLAYERS this year, I hit a few 3-woods that were going over 300 yards because the conditions were right. If we get the same conditions where it dries out and you start running with the slopes getting the ball to go 300 yards plus and with 3-woods, that’s ample far to get to the spots you need to get to. As I said you are playing to spots. There are a few times, yeah, you want to be aggressive, you want to get it down there and be able to take a run at — well, there’s only one par-5 you can basically reach, that being 2. But there are a few holes that you can be aggressive and get it done there. They give you some wider areas to drive it. If you miss those spots, you will be paying the price.”
*On whether Merion sets up well for him: “You know, I think it’s there are a few holes in which I want to reconfirm some of the lines with the dryer conditions, but I think we did a really good job.
“Joey went out there a day early with one of the assistants and scouted the golf course and got all the bracketing of where all the blind shots, where we need to keep it between. If you want to shade it to one side or the other, you want to get it down there farther, we’ve got to be on this side, and these different lines. He did a great job with I think it was Sean who was the assistant pro there. It really helped out. And there are a few holes I would like to see what I would do when it’s a little bit drier, because we got no wind yesterday. It was some of the holes where we had a different wind, it normally comes out of the south during the summer. Obviously we had there was a northwest wind yesterday. The complete opposite of what it should be come June.”
As you’ve probably heard, Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia don’t like each other. After playing together at The Players, they expressed their distaste for each other through the press. Sergio kept talking even after that week and then it got ugly when he made the “fried chicken” comment.
Q. On the phone or whatever, however he wanted to reach you just to be done with it before you reached the Major.
TIGER WOODS: That’s already done with.
Q. Has he apologized to you?
TIGER WOODS: Not in person, no.
Q. I know you responded via Twitter to Sergio’s comments, but more broadly, 17 years or so in your career, what’s your reaction to the fact that remarks of this nature continue to be made?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I live it. It’s happened my entire life, and it’s happened my entire career. So that doesn’t surprise me. It exists all around the world, not just in the sport of golf. It exists everywhere. I know that a lot of people are trying to make a difference and trying to make it more fair for us all.
*On being 5 for 13 (5 wins in 13 starts) at Muirfield Village: “You know, it’s interesting, I think I’ve always played Nicklaus courses well. Look at my career, I generally have really played his courses well. I’ve won on quite a few, whether it was junior golf, college, and now professional golf. For some reason, I’ve I just feel comfortable in his golf courses, the way he sets it up. There is ample room off the tees. The greens are really severe. If you miss the greens, it tests your short game. Those are the things that I think I do well.
“And this course now that it’s more towards the June date, the June month, it can get fast, can get quick. This course is tricky. And to be able to shape the golf ball to keep it in the fairway, and these greens I know it rained yesterday, but still. They have picked up speed. They were drying out as we were playing and they were getting quick.
“Last year, they stimped it in the morning at 14 on Sunday, and I can tell you that it wasn’t 14 when we played, it was faster than 14. Jack has it right there where he wants it now. And if we get the weather to hold up and no storms, it will be one hell of a test.”
*On being paired with Fred Couples in the first and second rounds: “I know there’s going to be a lot of needling, that’s a given, both directions. And we’re going to have a good time. Freddie is one of my best friends. And obviously Joey being on the bag with him 21 years or 22 years. There’s great chemistry there, and it’s all fun. It’s competitive, too. But we always enjoy each other’s company and I’m sure my phone is being blown up right now with him texting me. I’m sure he’s probably watching this.”
*On this week helping with his preparation for the U.S. Open: “Absolutely. It’s about playing well, hopefully winning the event and carrying that confidence into The Open.
“I already have, as I said, most of the lines and the things that I’ve been working on next week, but it’s about this week and it’s about winning this event. I’ve won it in the past, I’m defending this year. I’m looking forward to the next four days. This golf course the way it’s drying out and getting thunderstorms later in the week, it’s going to be a heck of a test.”
Call me crazy, but Tiger will probably make it five wins at the end of the week.