Tiger Woods went through his usual warm-up routine on the driving range on Merion’s West Course (the tournament is played on the East Course) on Tuesday morning. Just before noon, he wiped his face with the towel and said, “Alright, let’s go talk to the (slight pause) people.”
He hopped in a van and headed for the media center, which is a few miles down the road.
Woods answered questions for about thirty minutes before he headed out for a practice round. Here are the highlights:
*On Sergio Garcia approaching him at the range on Monday: “No, we didn’t discuss anything. Just came up and said hi, and that was it.”
*On whether Sergio has apologized in person (which was asked twice): “No, we haven’t had time for that…It’s already done. We’ve already gone through it all. It’s time for the U.S. Open and we tee it up in two days.”
*On the famous photo of Ben Hogan hitting the 1-iron on 18 in the 1950 U.S. Open: “That was to get into a playoff. Got about 40 feet and still had some work to do. It’s a great photo, but it would have been an all right photo if he didn’t win. He still had to go out and win it the next day. Knowing the fact that he went through the accident and then came out here and played 36 and won on 18, that’s awfully impressive.”
*On the last time he had a 1-iron in his bag: “The running joke out here is, well, when I got here in my teens I used a 1iron, in my 20s I used a 2-iron, and in my 30s I used a 5-wood. You see where this is going, right? So I think 7, 9, 11. So I’m shaping a 11wood from about 120 out there, when I get older. But I used a 1iron pretty much my entire junior golf career. We all played it was part of the game. 60s weren’t around when I first started playing. No one used a 60. It was always a 56, open it up and go from there. Some guys the lowest loft was 54. But I used one of my dad’s 1irons for a number of years. I stole it out of his bag and put a steel shaft in it and used it for a number of years. I used a 1iron a little bit into my early career on the Tour. But I think when I was 21 I pretty much was resolved to using a 2-iron instead of the 1-iron. I had to take the 1iron out and put the 2iron in or vice versa. Now it’s either 2-iron is in or the 5-wood is in.”
*On the course conditions: “It’s one of the things that, it’s nice to come to be advantageous when I came up here, when I came up on Tuesday of Memorial. It was rainy, the ball wasn’t flying very far and I’m hitting the ball in the same spots now, because obviously it’s rainy and soft. I thought it might be totally different. As I explained at Memorial, that the ball would be running out and we would hit different clubs and different shapes. But it’s going to be the same as what we played on Tuesday.”
*On whether his mindset is different this week because there are more birdie holes than usual at an U.S. Open: “That’s a great question. I don’t think we have an exact feel for it yet, what we’re going to have to do and what we’re going to have to shoot. The conditions keep changing. We haven’t dealt with teeing it up in a tournament yet with it raining and drying out for a couple of days and the mud balls appearing. That’s going to be interesting. Especially the longer holes.
“The shorter holes, if you catch a ball that’s got a little bit of mud on it, you can’t be as precise. I don’t know how they’re going to get the fairways down or if they’re going to cut the rough at all or if they’re going to have the greens up to speed. They certainly weren’t up to speed yesterday.
“Today the putting green was still a little bit slow. I don’t think that it’s going to be that much faster, especially with the forecast with rain on Thursday. It will be interesting to see what the players end up doing the first few days and getting a feel for what the number is going to be.”
*On scoring from holes 1-13 before the tough stretch that starts on 14: “As far as the scoring, we’re going to have a few a couple of opening short, easier holes, the first two. You’ll see some guys under par there. And obviously got to hang on at 3. 3 is a drivable par4. So get through there with your 3 and move on. And then you’ve got 4, which is two good shots and you’ve got a wedge. You’re going to have wedges the first three out of four holes. You’ll see guys off to a good start. You’ve got easier holes through the turn.
“But once you get to 14 on in it’s going to be tough, tough to make birdies, especially if they put the tees back at 17, 18. Those are two awfully difficult finishing holes when you’ve got 250 into the 17th and the last hole is 520 and you’re not getting any run. Yesterday from the back tee I hit driver and 3iron, I played the up tee with diver and 4iron, and I hit two good ones. It will be interesting to see where they put the tee markers on that hole.”
*On having 30 minutes between the practice range and the first tee (or 11th): “It’s going to be different. Obviously I think that it helps that we have a putting green down there down at the range, so we can get some warm up in there, as well. But a lot of the guys are talking about, you know, how early we have to leave to get to the first tee or the 9th tee. What that time is going to be.
“That’s the interesting thing is that you don’t want to leave too late, but you also don’t want to get there too early, you cool off a little bit. So that’s a feel thing that we’ve been trying out on the practice rounds, figuring out what the timing is going to be and what the number is going to be. And seeing what we have to allow.”
*On what kind of conditions he’d like to play a U.S. Open: “I’ve played Opens under both conditions where it’s dry and soft. I’ve won on both conditions, which is nice. At Torrey it was dry. Pebble was dry. And Bethpage was soft and slow. Either one the execution doesn’t change. You’ve still got to hit good shots and get the ball in play, especially now with the rough being wet, it’s imperative to get the ball in play so that we can get after some of these flags and make as many birdies as we can.”
*On whether there’s an element of luck to win the U.S. Open: “I think there’s an element of luck anytime you win a golf tournament. You’re going to hit shots that are borderline. You’re going to hit shots that you will get away with and take advantage of them. And it could turn the entire tournament around for the good or for the bad. Every event that I’ve won I’ve had situations like that. And I think this week will be the same.
“We’re going to have situations where, if it does dry out through the weekend and hit a few good drives down there and get a few mud balls we’re going to have to deal with it. It’s part of the game, getting up and down, and dealing with some of the situations like that. The good news is that most of these holes that we’re going to have potential mud balls on we’re going to have short irons in. There’s not like there’s a bunch of holes that are 490 and above. That can be easier. You can get the ball on a little easier with a short iron.”
*On advice he’d give to a kid playing in his first U.S. Open: “Yeah, I’ve been there. I was extremely nervous. My first Open was at Shinnecock and I didn’t last very long. I had to withdraw on the second day with a wrist injury. But I felt it was a fantastic learning experience for me. I got a chance I believe I played with Nick Price and maybe Ernie Els. It was just a great experience for me. And it certainly did help I played practice rounds with Freddie and Raymond and Nick, as well, Price, and it was fantastic.”
*On winning majors regularly and whether it’s harder now because it’s been five years: “No, I felt it was still difficult because the majority of the Majors, three of the four always rotated. It was always on a new site each and every year. Augusta was the only one you could rely on from past experiences. A lot of times, a lot of Majors that I won were on either the first or second time I’d ever seen it. So that it was never easy. The practice rounds are imperative. Doing scouting trips are very important, just like it is for this week. I came up here early. And getting a little feel for this golf course. I had to do all that stuff. But then I have to go out and execute and go out and win an event.”
*On the possibility of winning his fourth U.S. Open and joining the club of Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus: “It would be nice. We’ve got a long way to go. We haven’t started yet. We’re two days away from the start. We’ve got some work to do. Anyone who wins this week will certainly be a part of history. Just like it is with any U.S. Open or any USGA event. They do a fantastic job each and every year running every event, and this is their crown jewel.I learned so much that week. I learned what it takes to grind my way around the golf course like that, watching those guys do it. I applied it when I got out here.”
*On how the ever-changing conditions impacts his game plan and mindset: “My swing shot is still the same. I’m trying to get my ball to shape both ways. I feel very comfortable with it right now. And I’m still trying to get accustomed to the speed of these greens. They’re still slow. The mindset coming into a U.S. Open is they’re going to be hard and fast and crusty. But that’s obviously not going to materialize this week with this weather. Some of the guys are already throwing lead on their putters, and getting a little more weight behind it to try and adjust. But I haven’t reached that point yet. But we’ll see what the greens are this afternoon. I’m going to go out and play ten holes and see what they are now.”
*On whether he feels greater responsibility at big tournaments to perform: “I think I just enter events to win, and that’s it, whether there’s a lot of people following or there’s nobody out there, like how it was at AT&T Saturday last year. Not a single soul out there. It’s still the same. It’s still about winning the event. That’s why I played as a junior, all the way through to now is just to try to kick everyone’s butt. That to me is the rush. That’s the fun. That’s the thrill. And it’s been nice to be a part of the mix for 17 years now out here and be a part of a lot of great duels and a lot of great battles. And that to me is why I prepare, why I lift all those weights and put myself through all that is to be in those type of positions. It’s fun.”