GULLANE, Scotland — Tiger Woods met with the media on Tuesday morning at Muirfield Golf Club in his pre-Open press conference. Woods, who was again thwarted from teeing off before 7am for his practice round, said it was no big deal since he had only planned to play nine holes every day, anyway.
While he insists his left elbow, which gave him grief at last month’s U.S. Open, isn’t troubling him, it has forced him to be more prudent in his preparation for the Open Championship that kicks off on Thursday.
“I was always going to just play nine each day,” said Woods on Tuesday. “And that was the plan, not to push it on the amount of holes, especially on, as I said, on this hard ground. I’ve been playing a lot at home. But it’s Florida, it rains every day, it’s soft. It’s two totally different conditions. I just wanted to make sure that I’m rested and feel fit and ready to go for the championship.
“I’ve done a lot of homework on the greens each day. And I’ve taken my time and really got a good feel for them. So that’s been good. I just would like to maybe get another wind in, a little different direction. We’ve had it the same the last three days.”
Tiger admitted that the elbow injury was painful to play with at Merion, particularly hitting out of the heavy rough, but he wasn’t using it as an excuse for his mediocre performance.
“It didn’t feel good, especially in the rough,” he said. “That rough was dense and it was lush. You go from whatever it is, let’s say 100-some-odd miles an hour to virtually zero. And that’s what was the tough part about it. I really couldn’t get through it. And it put a lot of torque on it and it hurt. Conversely, just stay out of the damn thing. Put it in the fairway and put it on the green and make your putts. It’s not like I was drawing bad lies on those tee boxes.”
But, don’t worry, punters, Tiger continues to assure the injury shouldn’t be a cause for concern.
“The elbow feels good,” he said. “It’s one of the good things of taking the time off to let it heal and get the treatment and therapy on it. The main reason was that coming over here the ground is going to be hard, obviously. And I’m going to need that elbow to be good. And just in case the rough was — well, reports were it was going to be high, and it was going to be lush. I needed to have this thing set and healed. And everything is good to go.”
With the fast and firm conditions at Muirfield this week, especially given the heat wave throughout most of Scotland recently, Woods will most likely be hitting very few drivers off the tee, comparable to when he blew away the field at Hoylake in 2006.
“I used a lot of irons, actually,” said Woods, referring to the 2006 Open Championship. “I only hit one driver that week. This golf course is playing similar to that. It’s quick. And so far I’ve played a couple of days now, three days, and I’ve only hit a couple of drivers here.
“I remember Jason (Day) was playing with me the other day and he hadn’t hit a driver yet. A lot of irons off the tees. Some of the holes, 4-iron was going 280. 3-iron is going a little over 300 yards. So it’s quick. That’s on this wind. So obviously it could change. Like what we had in ’02 (here at Muirfield), it could come out of the northeast and it could be a totally different golf course.”
Tiger explained how much the ball runs in the firm fairways, a key component in proper links golf.
“It’s being able to control that as best you possibly can,” he said. “Downwind holes, that if you hit — I’ve hit 3-wood, I’ll run probably close to 80, 90 yards. Sometimes a little bit more than that. And you can chase balls that can go a long ways. And on 17 yesterday I hit 3-iron, 3-iron over the green. And granted, it’s just all in the run. It all depends on where you land it. It could land into a slope and get killed or land on the backside and it could shoot forward another 40, 50 yards. And that’s the neat thing about links golf, is that it’s predictable, but also unpredictable at the same time.”
Other highlights from the presser:
*On whether his mental toughness has wavered in recent years, causing his five-year winless drought at majors: “No, I feel very good about my game. I felt very, very good going into Major championships. I’ve had a pretty good year this year so far; won four times. Even though I haven’t won a Major championship in five years, I’ve been there in a bunch of them where I’ve had chances. I just need to keep putting myself there and eventually I’ll get some.”
*On the awful weather conditions in the third round of the Open at Muirfield in 2002 when he shot 81: “That was the worst I’ve ever played in. I think because of the fact that we weren’t prepared for it, that no one was prepared for it. There was a slight chance of maybe a shower (laughter). Obviously the forecast was very wrong on that. So none of us were prepared clothing-wise. A lot of guys just had golf shirts and a rain jacket, and that was it. That was all they had. I think that’s one of the biggest things. The windchill was in the 30s. The umbrella became useless, because the wind was blowing so hard, you couldn’t control the umbrella. It was just a cold, cold day. We played through probably maybe 13, 14 holes of it. And then it started easing up towards the end. And by then the damage had already been done to my round. I was already maybe 12 over par, I think it was, until I played 17. It was a tough day all around.”
*On the prominent list of winners of the Open at Muirfield over the years: “You know, I think it’s the quality of the golf course. I mean you have to hit the ball well here. You have to be able to shape your shots. I think it’s very similar to look at the list of winners at our last Major, U.S. Open, Merion. Again, all wonderful ball strikers. And I think this is the same here. I mean, look at the list of past champions. The number of Hall of Famers that there are who have won here. I think it just goes to show you you really have to hit the ball well. You have to be able to shape it both ways. You can’t just hit one way. You have to shape it both ways and really control the shots. Because you’re not playing, like you are at St. Andrews out and back or Troon. You’re playing almost in kind of a circle, in a sense, because you’ve got so many different angles and so many different winds, you have to be able to maneuver the ball both ways.”
*On how he deals with shooting a score like 81: “Well, I’ve tried to forget it. My goal going in on Sunday was to get myself back to even par, which I believe I did. Either even par or over par, I was close. That was my goal. I really played well on Sunday. I just happened to catch the weather at the worst time and I didn’t play well at the same time. So it was a double whammy. I believe that is the worst score I’ve shot as a professional. It was a tough one. But that’s the way it goes.”
*On whether he’s analyzed what’s prevented him from winning at majors over the past five years: “I think it’s just a shot here and there. It’s making a key up-and-down here or getting a good bounce here, capitalizing on an opportunity here and there. For instance, this year at Augusta was one of those examples. I really played well, and a good shot ended up having a bad break. So it’s a shot here and a shot there. It’s not much. It could happen on the first day, it could happen on the last day. But it’s turning that tide and getting the momentum at the right time or capitalizing on our opportunity. That’s what you have to do to win Major championships.”
*On this week being his 17th Open Championship and what it means to be here: “I love this championship. I just think it’s so neat to be able to play this type of golf. There’s only certain places in the world in which we can. And here and probably the Aussie Sandbelt courses are the only places where we can truly play links-type golf; bounce the ball up, shape shots, and really be creative. I fell in love with it 17 years ago when I first came over here and I got a chance — my introduction to links golf was Carnoustie at the Scottish Open and St. Andrews were back-to-back weeks. That’s as good as it gets. And I absolutely fell in love with it, to be able to dink a 5-iron from 150 yards and bump it on the ground. Or vice versa, have 260 out and hit a 4-iron and it bounces over the green. That to me is pretty neat. Because we play generally everywhere around the world an airborne game where you have to hit the ball straight up in the air and make it stop. Here it’s different. A draw will go one distance, a fade will go another, and they’re so dramatic. And I just absolutely love it.”
*On the percentage of majors where he’s won and when others have helped a bit by “losing” it: “Well, I think it’s very simple, there’s a lot of pressure in Major championships, and you’re also playing under the most difficult conditions. Generally in these Majors you’re probably getting, what, close to the top 100 players in the world. And you combine the strength of field with the most difficult conditions and with the most heightened pressure, you’re going to get guys making mistakes. And conversely, sometimes when you get those conditions you get guys who are playing fantastic. So I don’t know if I can give you a percentage on how it goes, but we’ve seen, throughout the years, where guys have certainly played well and executed on the back nine and have gone on to win. And where also when guys have had leads and made a bunch of mistakes, and have thrown away. It goes both ways. And that’s the neat thing about Major championships, it can happen. And you just don’t know until the back nine on Sunday.”
*On why he likes to play practice rounds so early in the day: “I like getting up early, especially when the sun comes up at 4:00 in the morning here. It’s hard to sleep in. And I don’t sleep much to begin with. It’s light early. I’ve always liked coming out here. The golf course doesn’t change much; from five in the morning to seven at night, nine at night, it’s virtually the same. Peter was explaining that he’s having the grounds crew cut it from No. 1 through 18 as a routine, to get them accustomed to that pattern for the championship. That’s one of the reasons why he wants us to tee off at 7:00 on the first tee. I totally understand it. I remember at St. Andrews, that Mark, Calc and I would go out there at about 5 a.m. and drop at ball on 2, and play on and come back in. And go back out and putt it at 8 or 9 at night.”
*On 19-year-old Jordan Spieth winning the John Deere Classic last Sunday: ” I think it’s fantastic for him. Being 19 years old and having an opportunity to not only to have a chance to win his first tournament, but the way he did it and went out there in the playoff and got it done. By winning a tournament it gives you so many different opportunities, playing opportunities. Now he’s exempt on Tour for a couple of years, he’s got a chance to play in the Masters, and here at Major championships. Now he’s into World Golf Championships. He’s into big events now, which when he first started out, he didn’t have his card. So quickly to go from that to playing the biggest championships, and be exempt for a couple of years is a pretty fantastic accomplishment.”
*On Muirfield’s exclusionary membership policy of men-only: “I don’t make the policies here. I’m not a member, so I’m not going to speak for the club.”
Well, that’s about it — I’m sure that’ll satisfy your reading itch. I’ll say one last thing for now re: Tiger’s injury based on my personal experience dealing with such things: It can work for and against you performance-wise. Sometimes it makes you keep your expectations lower, which also takes some pressure off, so you might play well or better than you expected and it helps you with momentum, but most of the time, that’s fleeting.
Eventually, it catches up with you because either you’re protecting the injury/pain unconsciously, particular if Tiger finds himself in the rough, which will affect your swing negatively. And, most notably, it throws you off mentally because you’re worried about how you’ll feel and how your body will hold up. But, you never know, and it’s that slightest bit of doubt that causes havoc with your confidence and game.
(AFP Photo/Paul Ellis)