Tiger Woods feels that he’s ready to play — and most important, compete — at this week’s Masters. A cheery and particularly upbeat Woods, who wasn’t certain to make the start until his official announcement last Friday, created a stir on Monday afternoon when he showed up at Augusta National to practice and play 11 holes, especially for his dance moves as he rocked out to some hip-hop on the chipping/pitching range.
Considering Woods hasn’t been spotted publicly on the golf course since February 5 when he withdrew after 11 holes in the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open, Woods’ game reportedly looked quite sharp. He also spent a significant amount of time working on his chipping in the practice area and on the golf course.
Woods is making his first start after announcing on February 11 that he was taking an indefinite leave of absence to work on his game, saying his play was unacceptable for tournament golf and that he would return when he felt like he was ready to compete and contend again. In his first PGA Tour event of 2015 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Woods missed the cut after posting scores of 73-82. During his absence, he has fallen all the way down to 111th in the Official World Golf Rankings.
Woods, who was all smiles in his pre-tournament press conference on Tuesday afternoon, believes he’s prepared to test his game in the season’s first major at Augusta National.
“I’m excited, excited to be back, to be back playing at this level,” said Woods, who will by vying for his fifth green jacket and his elusive 15th major. “I feel like my game is finally ready to compete at this level, the highest level, and I’m excited to be here.
“There’s no other tournament in the world like this, and to come back to a place that I’ve had so many great memories at and so many great times in my life, it’s always special…Excited to be competing again and really looking forward to Thursday.”
Woods said he wouldn’t have returned to play at the Masters if he’d felt all facets of his game were not up to par, so to speak. How did he get his game back to where it need it to be? The good old fashioned way, obviously — hard work. Over the past two months, Woods worked tirelessly to return to form (which still remains to be seen in competition).
“I worked my ass off,” said Tiger, smiling. “That’s the easiest way to kind of describe it. I worked hard. People would never understand how much work I put into it to come back and do this again. But it was sunup to sundown, and whenever I had free time; if the kids were asleep, I’d still be doing it, and then when they were in school, I’d still be doing it. So it was a lot of work.”
Woods explained that after his short stint at Torrey Pines, he already knew what the issue was — he was stuck between two patterns.
“Well, it was very telling that I was stuck right between two release patterns,” said Tiger. “That was the good part. The bad part is trying to have to solidify that and keep going down the path I was going, and it was going to take time and effort and that’s one of the reasons I decided not to compete for a while; it was going to take time.
“It was nice to see that I had ‑‑ when I did it right, how far I could hit it again. But also, then again, I was caught right in between. So I just needed to make sure that I got into the release pattern that we wanted to get into, and once I did, then I just had to hammer it out and make sure it was engrained.”
Throughout his journey to rediscover his game over the last two months, he naturally faced obstacles, but he never lost hope.
“More frustration than anything else, because I knew what I could do, and just wasn’t able to do it at the time,” said Woods. “It would come in flashes. I would get in these modes where it would come for ten minutes and I would just have it, just dialed in; and then I’d lose it for an hour; and then I’d get it back. And next thing you know, I’d flip to having it for an hour to ten minutes of losing it, and then it got to a point where it was just there.”
In the end, there was no sudden epiphany in finding his way back to form. After all, it’s a process.
“There was really no moment like that,” said Tiger. “It was a slow and steady progression each and every day. We worked on it each and every day, just taking little bits of it, just improve each and every day.
“When the sun came up, by the time the sun set, I should be a better player than I was in the morning, and that was the case. That was our whole focus was just to get better incrementally. We don’t need to make big, giant leaps or anything like that, but just incrementally get better.”
As for his health, his back is structurally sound, but he has felt soreness from muscle fatigue due to the endless hours of practice and stress on his body. However, he assured it wasn’t a big issue.
Throughout his career, Woods has always made it clear that when he enters a tournament, he has one goal in mind and that’s to win. Though it’s been nearly seven years since he won his last major, his expectations remain the same.
“I want to win,” he said. “The whole idea is to prepare and do that, and I feel like my game is finally ready to go and do that again.”
Woods, who dropped to 111th in the world rankings this week, will officially kick off this year’s Masters when he tees off at 1:48pm EST on Thursday.
Here’s Tiger’s full presser for your reading enjoyment:
April 7, 2015
An Interview With:
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you so very much for being with us this afternoon here at the Masters media center. And it is always a great pleasure and privilege to welcome back to Augusta, four‑times Masters Champion, Mr. Tiger Woods, and this marks Tiger’s 20th appearance at Augusta.
So, thank you, sir, for making the time to be with us this week.
TIGER WOODS: Thank you.
MODERATOR: Tiger, we are all delighted to have you return to competition and there is obviously a tremendous amount of interest and excitement here and throughout the golfing world as you compete for a fifth green jacket.
So before we open it up for questions, I would ask, would you comment and tell us, how do you feel, how is your health and how would you evaluate your preparations going through this week, sir.
TIGER WOODS: Well, I’m excited, excited to be back, to be back playing at this level. I feel like my game is finally ready to compete at this level, the highest level, and I’m excited to be here.
There’s no other tournament in the world like this, and to come back to a place that I’ve had so many great memories at and so many great times in my life, it’s always special. And then this week, to play with Mo, haven’t seen him in a while, go back and relive some old times, brings back some great times. Excited to be competing again and really looking forward to Thursday.
Q. In the course of your preparation, is there anything that would have tipped you in the other direction and made you pull the plug and decide not to come back this week?
TIGER WOODS: If I felt like I wasn’t hitting the ball as well as I needed to or even chipping and putting, as well, but I needed to have all facets of my game come around. They all have, and we’ve spent a lot of time, a lot of work on this (smiling) and it’s finally paid off.
Q. What did you do? I mean, did you kind of just get back to basics, all parts of it? Can you talk about how much time, range, course, playing; how much you can take us through on the process over the last eight, nine weeks?
TIGER WOODS: I worked my ass off (smiling). That’s the easiest way to kind of describe it. I worked hard.
It was (sighing) people would never understand how much work I put into it to come back and do this again. But it was sunup to sundown, and whenever I had free time; if the kids were asleep, I’d still be doing it, and then when they were in school, I’d still be doing it. So it was a lot of work.
Q. Were there any issues with your back at all during that time?
TIGER WOODS: A little bit here and there. But it was just from the twisting. It just gets sore also bending over and hitting so many putts, too. There’s only ‑‑ you stand over a putter for a couple hours, you’re going to be a little sore. But just had to get through it.
Had my therapist there and he worked on me and it was all good and ready to go. I had no structural damage, no structural issues. It was just the fact that my muscles got fatigued.
Q. When you left Torrey Pines, can you describe what that plane ride was like for you, and what did you feel like was the most important thing you had to do to get back to this level?
TIGER WOODS: Well, it was very telling that I was stuck right between two release patterns. That was the good part.
The bad part is trying to have to solidify that and keep going down the path I was going, and it was going to take time and effort and that’s one of the reasons I decided not to compete for a while; it was going to take time.
It was nice to see that I had ‑‑ when I did it right, how far I could hit it again. But also, then again, I was caught right in between. So I just needed to make sure that I got into the release pattern that we wanted to get into, and once I did, then I just had to hammer it out and make sure it was engrained.
Q. Did you lose any hope at any point?
TIGER WOODS: More frustration than anything else, because I knew what I could do, and just wasn’t able to do it at the time. It would come in flashes. I would get in these modes where it would come for ten minutes and I would just have it, just dialed in; and then I’d lose it for an hour; and then I’d get it back. And next thing you know, I’d flip to having it for an hour to ten minutes of losing it, and then it got to a point where it was just there.
Q. Mark said that you’re going to play the Par 3, or that’s your plan. Can you tell us what went into that decision and who is your caddie?
TIGER WOODS: I have two, actually (laughter). My two little ones are going to be out there with me. It’s special. As I said, this tournament means so much to me in so many different ways.
We all know what happened in ’97 with my dad’s health, and he was pronounced ‑‑ well, he was dead at one point earlier that year; came back, and then came here and I won the Masters.
To now have come full circle and to have a chance to have my kids out there and be able to share that with them, it’s special. Charlie has seen me win a golf tournament before. Sam, actually she was there at the U.S. Open in 2008, but doesn’t remember it. It’s nice to be able to share these things with my family and it just means the world to me. They are excited, I’m excited and can’t wait to go out there.
Q. No one’s game is under as much scrutiny as yours ‑‑
TIGER WOODS: Really? (Laughter).
Q. Do you get tired of it, and does it come into your affection for this lifestyle and this profession to deal with that?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I think it’s your ‑‑ I think it’s anyone’s choice whether they use the Internet or not. So I refuse to go on and read what you all write, good or bad, whether you’re friends of mine or not. Just choose not to go down that road.
I’ve come to the understanding that I live it. I know exactly what I’m doing out here and I’ve hit the shots, and I don’t really need someone else’s secondhand opinion of what I was thinking of. I know exactly what I was doing out there.
But it’s nice to be back and see some of my old friends out here and get back to competing again.
Q. If I could ask a quick follow, there’s an observation that you just seem looser. Do you agree ‑‑
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, I’m a lot more flexible, you’re right.
Q. Psychologically; just socially, more at ease, more just socializing with the people around you. What’s gone into that? What accounts for that?
TIGER WOODS: I have no idea, Karen (laughter). I’m just enjoying just competing again. Whether I have blinders on or not, I don’t feel any different. I feel like I’m preparing to try and win the Masters.
Q. I think I heard you say that your short game has to reflect the long game?
TIGER WOODS: Mm‑hmm.
Q. Why? And B, did your short game change from Butch to Hank to Sean?
TIGER WOODS: Yes. They all changed, all different release patterns. So they all had ‑‑ putting changed, full swing changed, they are all different release patterns. So they were all seamless throughout the bag, but all different release patterns.
Q. Was this one harder to get ahold of?
TIGER WOODS: Not necessarily, because it’s a familiar pattern. As I was describing to you guys earlier in the year, it’s new but old, or old but new. I’ve been there before. Once I started picking it up, it came pretty quick.
Q. Rory is going for the career Slam this week. Can you talk about that accomplishment, since you did it and what you’ll reminisce of what it meant to you? And secondly, are you a little amused by how under the radar it is, because when you were doing it, it was all the rage at that point.
TIGER WOODS: I look back when I did it in 2000, I couldn’t ask for a better place to do it at other than St. Andrews, the Home of Golf.
And for Rory, you couldn’t ask for the other better place to do it, which is here at Augusta. It doesn’t get much better than that. So he has that opportunity and he’s going to have that opportunity for decades to come. But I’m sure he’ll have many green jackets in his closet before it’s all said and done.
Q. Just a little bit of a follow‑up of what Karen was asking about. When you won 14 majors, it was with blinders on. We were all here and we all saw you, you were very focused. Is it different that you are ‑‑ you certainly are different; you’ve got kids and you’re a little bit, shall we say, friendlier ‑‑
TIGER WOODS: To you? (Laughter).
Q. Touché. But do you feel different, and is it different competing when you don’t have the blinders on and you’re a little more of yourself?
TIGER WOODS: No. Competing is still the same. I’m trying to beat everybody out there. That hasn’t changed. I prepare to win and expect to do ‑‑ to go and do that.
The only difference is that, yeah, I won the Masters when Jordan was still in diapers. That’s the difference is that guys are now younger, a whole other generation of kids are coming out. And the game has gotten bigger.
When I first came out here, I mean, I was ‑‑ I think I averaged like 296, I think it was, and I was second to John Daly at the time. Now, guys, the carry number is 320. When I first won my first golf tournament on Tour, I beat Davis Love in a playoff with a Persimmon driver. That’s now changed.
The game has evolved so much since I’ve been out here and I think that’s the biggest difference is that I know I can pump it out there to 320, but I can’t carry it out there each and every time like some of the big guys can, and the game has just become so big. 7,100‑yard golf courses are extremely short; before, they were long.
Nobody worked out except for Vijay and myself, and now everyone has their trainer here this week. You see guys are losing more weight, getting fit faster, doing explosive exercises, doing things people thought was unheard of in our sport, but now golf has become more of a sport.
Q. Are you feeling old?
TIGER WOODS: I’m feeling older, there’s no doubt about that. Try chasing around six‑ and seven‑year‑olds all day, you start feeling it. But the good news is my soccer game has gotten a lot better.
Q. What do you think about Rory’s powerlifting and have you talked to him about that and maybe warned him about anything?
TIGER WOODS: I encourage it. I do the same thing. You’ve got to be explosive. The ball is not moving. We’ve got to move it out there and the only way to do that is to be fast.
Q. I think we all know that you judge success by winning, that’s your measure of success. But given where you’ve been the last few months and what you’ve worked on and so forth, is something less than that still a success?
TIGER WOODS: No, I still feel the same way, Dave. I want to win. The whole idea is to prepare and do that, and I feel like my game is finally ready to go and do that again.
As I said earlier in the year, I was caught right between two release patterns, and I had to get rid of that and make sure I had one release pattern in me. It took a while. It took a lot of hard work that went into it. I finally got to the point where I feel I can do it now.
Q. Given the chance, would you want to win the Par 3 tomorrow?
TIGER WOODS: I had an opportunity to do that once, remember that? It was raining. Didn’t show up for the playoff.
Q. Any particular reason why?
TIGER WOODS: There are certain things that ‑‑ I’ve been low before there. I’ve been 6‑under through 8, and for some reason the wind came up and I hit two balls in the water on 9 (laughter). Just so happened to be that way, you know, just one of those weird things.
Q. You don’t strike me as superstitious?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, no one’s ever done it. I don’t want to prove it wrong, so just have a good time.
Q. You had a look of disbelief when Rob mentioned it was your 20th Masters. Is it hard to believe it’s been 20 years since the Masters or ten years since you last won it?
TIGER WOODS: Both. Both. The fact that it’s ‑‑ it should be my 21st, actually, with the last year, if I would have played. But to have been around that long, playing this tournament; I’m only 30 behind Gary (laughter), so a long way to go.
Q. One ahead in green jackets, though.
TIGER WOODS: One ahead in the green jackets, that’s right.
Q. Why do you think it’s been ten years?
TIGER WOODS: I’ve come close. That’s the thing. Probably half those tournaments I had a chance on the back nine. I just didn’t get it done, for whatever reason it is. I’ve had my opportunities and I just haven’t seized them.
Q. If this wasn’t Masters week, would you be playing ‑‑
TIGER WOODS: Yes.
Q. And when was the aha moment on the range recently when it clicked for you?
TIGER WOODS: There was really no moment like that. It was a slow and steady progression each and every day. We worked on it each and every day, just taking little bits of it, just improve each and every day.
When the sun came up, by the time the sun set, I should be a better player than I was in the morning, and that was the case. That was our whole focus was just to get better incrementally. We don’t need to make big, giant leaps or anything like that, but just incrementally get better.
Q. You just kind of answered it in terms of this being Masters week, but in terms of your preparation, how much did trying to get back out here ‑‑ how much did this tournament specifically loom in terms of that, especially since you missed last year?
TIGER WOODS: Well, as I said, this tournament is so special to me for so many reasons. There’s no other tournament like it. I think it’s probably ‑‑ most guys will probably rate it as their most favorite tournament.
We as players love it because it’s basically a players tournament. You go out there and it’s just a player and a caddie and that’s it. It’s very quiet out there on the golf course; and inside the ropes, it’s really just us. There’s something special about it.
You come here to a golf course in which we play each and every year, where other majors don’t. There’s so much history involved. I just find it fascinating that they keep changing this place, it seems like, every year and it looks exactly the same, like it’s never been touched. It’s just fascinating.
I didn’t play last year so I didn’t see when the Eisenhower Tree was gone. I didn’t realize 17 was straight ahead. I always thought it was a little bit of a dogleg‑left. It’s eye opening to see it’s just dead‑straight. That was very, very shocking to me to see it like that.
Q. Do you like it now?
TIGER WOODS: I loved it the way it was. That tree, I’ve hit it too many times, trust me. I’ve had my issues on that hole, that tree. But I thought it was a fantastic hole. It’s iconic, that tree, and I don’t think you can ever, ever replace it.
Q. You talked about guys losing weight in training; have you lost weight since San Diego, and can you give us a sense of how close you are to your weight when you won here in ’97?
TIGER WOODS: ’97, I was ‑‑ I turned pro at 158, I turned pro, so that was in Milwaukee. So I think I put on maybe five pounds. Call it low 60s.
Q. What about now?
TIGER WOODS: Now, I’m mid 80s.
Q. And what were you listening to yesterday when you were dancing?
TIGER WOODS: Hip‑hop.
Q. Was that to create a rhythm for chipping or you just wanted to listen?
TIGER WOODS: I wanted to just rock out (laughter). It was just nice. That’s what I practice in at home, and so having an opportunity to do that here, you see a lot of guys do it.
I grew up listening to ‑‑ you remember the old cassette tapes? I used to make my own cassette tapes, and then they had the Disc Man. They didn’t have a holder for the waist, so I took one of the cassette holders and took that off and epoxied it to the Discman and listened to my discs as I practiced.
Times have changed, but still practicing for hours on end, it’s nice to have a little bit of tunes.
Q. Is it the same thing over and over again, the same song, the same track?
TIGER WOODS: I have a playlist I play, but it’s 300 songs. It’s not too often I hear the same one again.
Q. Given everything that’s happened over the last 12 months, from surgery onwards, if you do win on Sunday, where would it rank in your list of great achievements? Where would this one be?
TIGER WOODS: It would be my 15th major.
Q. That’s where you would rank it?
TIGER WOODS: We have a long way to go before that. We’ve got a lot of work (smiling).
Q. Was there ever a point from the sunup to sundown work that you wondered, is this going to work out, can you get through this process?
TIGER WOODS: There were times when there were a few clubs that flew, suddenly slipped out of my hand and traveled some pretty good distances, too. There were some frustrating moments, but had to stick with it.
It was great to have Chris there and Rob, and we just kept working, shot for shot, hour after hour.
Q. I wanted to just follow‑up on the timing of your return. Is it really a happy coincidence that your game is back well enough in time for the Masters, or did you really target this one when you left Torrey Pines?
TIGER WOODS: I wanted to be back for Arnold’s event. I love that event. I love Arnold to death and what he’s meant to me and my life. I just wasn’t ‑‑ I just wasn’t ready. That was one of the tougher calls I’ve had to make is to tell Arnold I can’t play. But he was very understanding. We had a great talk.
Since I wasn’t able to play there, hopefully I would be ready for Augusta and it finally came around.
Q. Would you have really skipped it if you didn’t think your game was here?
TIGER WOODS: Yes.
Q. Any time during the work on the range, sunup to sundown, were the kids ever with you?
TIGER WOODS: Absolutely.
Q. What sort of things would they do when you were hitting balls?
TIGER WOODS: Pick flowers, play tag, run around, play Obstacle, play Distraction. We had a lot of games. Yes, they were there.
Q. Given that you’re one of only three golfers to successfully defend, given that this is the major that doesn’t move, are you surprised that the number is that low?
TIGER WOODS: No. This golf course is very, very demanding. You have to have every facet of your game going.
You know, back in the ‑‑ actually back in the days before they made the big changes here, the emphasis has become more on driving than it used to be in the past.
I remember Raymond telling me some of the angles I should hit it; you can’t do that anymore. You just can’t blow it over into certain parts of the golf course you used to to grab an angle.
But it’s just so demanding. You have to understand how to miss it, how to miss in the correct spot. You have to have the ability to hit certain chip shots with a draw spin, cut spin, which bounce you want to have it check on. You have to have all of these different facets of your game going, and just put it all together at the same time. And it’s hard to do.
Only three guys have done it. And you’ve seen some of the best players in the world come through here. It’s just hard.
Q. What is today your greatest motivation?
TIGER WOODS: My greatest motivation? Winning. I like it (laughter).
MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so very much for being with us. Thanks for your time and we wish you the very best of luck this week.