Tiger’s Open Championship press conference: Tuesday
MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. We’ll make a start. Very pleased to welcome three-time Open Champion Tiger Woods to the interview room. Tiger, you obviously have great memories of your two victories here at St. Andrews. You’re coming into this week on the back of a very good performance at The Greenbrier. How much are you looking forward to playing in the Open this week?
TIGER WOODS: I’m very excited. Very excited to be back here at the Home of Golf. I’ve always loved this golf course, from the first time I played it back in ’95, so it’s just something special about it. It’s nice to be out there on the course and see it and feel it again, to be able to hit all the shots. You know, it’s playing a little bit differently than we’ve had in previous Opens, or the previous Opens that I’ve played in. It’s a little bit softer and I’m sure it’s going to get even softer with the forecast for Friday. It’ll be playing a little bit differently this year.
Q: As you were saying, you’ve won The Open twice here at St. Andrews already; what is it about St. Andrews that makes it so special for you?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I just love the creativity. You have to be able to hit all different type of shots. You know, the first thing I ever heard about St. Andrews is that all you do is hit it as hard as you can and aim left. That’s basically not how you play the golf course. You need to have the right angles. Over the years of learning how to play the golf course under all different type of wind conditions, it changes greatly, and it’s based on angles. You have to put the ball on certain sides of the fairways in order to get the ball close. To me that type of thinking and the strategy that goes into that is something I’ve always loved. Yeah, you can run the ball up here on a lot of the holes. It won’t really be doing that this week because it’s a little bit softer, but still, you have that option. You know, a five-degree wind change here changes the whole golf course completely. I’ve always found that very fascinating.
Q: You’ve been struggling with your form and through injury. Do you feel you can find that back here at St. Andrews?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, I’ve made a — as I’ve told a lot of you in here, I’ve made a pretty big baseline shift at Memorial this year. That was actually one of the tougher things to do. Granted, that’s not exactly the easiest golf course in the world, either, but I did it, and consequently I ended up playing well at Greenbrier and hit the ball the best I’ve hit it in probably two years on Sunday. So that was awfully nice to be able to do coming into this week. I’ve hit the ball just as well then in my practice rounds.
Q: Given all that you have achieved on the golf course down the years, do you get nervous on the golf course when you’re competing, and if so, what makes you nervous?
TIGER WOODS: Absolutely. I’m always nervous. That first tee shot, I’m nervous. I care about what I do, and when I’m not nervous is the day I quit. That means I really don’t care what I’m doing out there. I want to feel the rush. I want to feel the nerves. It’s just a matter of how do you handle it. I think I’ve done a pretty good job over my career of handling it and winning events here and there. I just enjoy playing tournament golf, and I enjoy competing at the highest level against the best players in the world.
Q: Is there a different feeling to those emotions in the latter part of your career compared with in the early part of your career when you were utterly dominant?
TIGER WOODS: Probably the most nervous I was was probably when I was 12, because it was the first time we had to play 18 holes. They were only nine-hole matches when you’re 11 and under, now you had to play all 18. I remember telling mom and dad how nervous and scared I was to go out there and have to play all 18 in a tournament. I’d never done that before, so that was very different. But other than that, I’ve enjoyed the rush. I’ve enjoyed getting out there and competing. It’s exciting for me to get up there on that first tee knowing that it’s time to go, and let’s try and go beat these guys.
Q: Given what you’ve just said about playing the Old Course, do you believe that experience counts for more than form this week?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I think experience counts a lot with the varied wind conditions. I think that’s where experience comes into play. You have to hit the ball well. You have to really lag putt well here. But if you haven’t seen the golf course in various winds, bunkers that you don’t even see on the yardage book because you’re not playing it, you don’t see it with that wind, all of a sudden become apparent. That’s one of the things I’ve noticed over the years that I’ve played here is that it does help playing practice rounds with, for me, some of the older players and getting their experience at how do you hit shots, where do you play here. Sometimes you’ve got to play into adjacent fairways. That’s not something you try and do on purpose back in the States. I’ve hit shots in adjacent fairways but never on purpose, but here, it does work to your advantage at times because then that will give you actually the best angle. It’s also sometimes the shortest route to carry bunkers or mounds or rough.
Q: We’ve all been quite interested in Jordan Spieth’s buildup to coming here this week. Do you think that you can get the experience from a golf simulator to stand you in good stead for the Old Course?
TIGER WOODS: Well, as I said, it’s about wind conditions. It’s about understanding how to play the golf course under various winds. That’s something I think you have to — you can see the golf course on a simulator and it’s fantastic. I’ve seen it. But playing in the different winds and having to hit the different shots, shaping shots completely differently from one day to the next on the same hole, it does help seeing the golf course under different winds. Over the years, this is my fifth Open here, and I’ve seen a lot of different winds. I’ve played the Dunhill Cup here in ’98, so even seeing the greens frozen, we had to go back out there and play, that was quite interesting.
Q: We know how much you love the Old Course. Is there something special about St. Andrews the place?
TIGER WOODS: You know, obviously it’s the Home of Golf, we all know that. But to me it’s brilliant, how you can play it so many different ways. I’ve always wanted to play it one time — before I die I want to play it one time backwards. I want to play from 1 to 17, 2 to 16, so forth and so on. I’d love to be able to play it that way, just one time. I think that would be just a blast because I can see how certain bunkers — why would they put that there? And then if you play it backwards, you see it. It’s very apparent. That’s totally in play. That one day would be a lot of fun to be able to do.
Q: Question for you about putting. At Memorial, especially the first two rounds, you putted really, really well. I don’t think you probably made as many putts as you’d have liked. I know you didn’t think you made very many at Chambers Bay and probably didn’t make very many at Greenbrier. What kind of adjustments have you made or can you yet make to see the ball going in a little bit more?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I did make a couple changes. My lines were slightly off in my setup. I also regripped my putter. After a certain amount of time, the grip does become smaller, and we were having to towel it off before every putt, and that gets annoying. So decided to put a fresh one on there, and when it’s fresh like that, it’s just slightly bigger. I’ve used that grip for probably maybe a year-and-a-half or so, so you can see my indentations of my fingers in there, and that’s probably a time when it’s time to change it.
Q: You’ve noted the difference in the course conditions compared to your other visits here. Does that disappoint you that it’s not like it’s been, it’s not as hard and fast as you’ve seen it before, and how much does that change your preparation this week?
TIGER WOODS: The only time I’ve ever seen it like this was when we played the Dunhill Cup in ’98. It was cold and soft then, and it’s obviously not as cold now, but it’s playing about the same type of firmness. It’s just not quite chasing. Actually yesterday I had two wedge shots actually backed up, and I can’t remember ever backing up a wedge shot here on this golf course. That’s going to be a little bit different. I think we’re going to have to fly the ball a little bit deeper into the greens. You can’t quite chase it like we normally do. It’s going to be probably just — just going to have to be a little bit more aggressive in the air than in years past.
Q: Would you talk about how well you hit it at Greenbrier. I’d be curious if you go back the last few years in the last majors you’ve played, going into The Open last year after coming off an injury, ditto for Valhalla, the break at the Masters, The Memorial, what’s it like coming into this one, and what was it like playing with a certain degree of uncertainty about how you were going to play in the previous majors the last couple years?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, obviously the previous majors were a little bit more difficult. I was still learning a new golf swing. Last year coming off surgery on my back and trying to get back and trying to get my feels back, meanwhile trying to make a swing change all at the same time was very difficult. You know, I had some pretty apparent flaws in my technique. That’s one of the reasons why I shut it down after Torrey and Pebble and consequently I was able to turn things around, and I had a chance to win the Masters this year. We made another shift at Memorial, and it worked out perfectly. I hit the ball great at Greenbrier. It was the first time I had led proximity to the hole with my iron play in I don’t know how many years. It’s been a while. So that was a very, very good sign. And as bad as I putted that week, I was only four shots out of a playoff.
Q: What’s the difference in your level of optimism?
TIGER WOODS: I think just the fact that I’m playing better. I’m hitting the ball much, much more solid. I’m controlling my flights. Coming in here, being able to shape the golf ball not only both ways but also changed my trajectories, as well, and being very comfortable changing my trajectories. That’s something that I feel you have to do here on this golf course. You have to be able to manoeuvre the golf ball because there’s a big difference of hitting the ball low with a draw and hitting the ball low with a cut. Sometimes it can be 30 to 50 yards’ difference in how the ball reacts on the ground, and to be able to understand that and to be able to control that, I think that’s very important.
Q: We know you go into tournaments always looking to win. You’re also finding your form and going through major swing changes, but when you were struggling did you ever have thoughts about how far you’re going to play in this game and even the word retirement?
TIGER WOODS: Well, retirement? I don’t have any AARP card yet, so I’m a ways from that. I feel like my body is finally healed up from the surgery from last year. You know, they say it takes you about four-to-six months to get back, but I’ve heard a lot of guys on Tour who have had the surgery and other athletes say it takes over a year to get back. I think they were there probably closer to being right, it being a full year to get back. It would have been one thing if I would have gone through the procedure and then had the same golf swing, but I’ve changed the golf swing, too, on top of that, and so that was kind of a double dipper there where I had to fight both at the same time.
Q: Given how you and Louis and Rickie opened the United States Open, could you have imagined Louis making a run at the title, and what did you make of that?
TIGER WOODS: ’96 Open?
Q: Chambers Bay.
TIGER WOODS: Oh, okay, sorry. I thought you said ’96 Open. What was the question again? I couldn’t figure out — I didn’t know Rickie was playing in ’96.
Q: Given how you and Rickie and Louis started the U.S. Open, could you have imagined Louis contending the way he did?
TIGER WOODS: Not after the first day. He was struggling a lot on the first day. But the second day he made everything. I’ve never seen Louis do this. I’ve played a lot of golf with him. I played golf with him I think at Muirfield when he withdrew on the ninth hole. I’ve played a lot of golf with Louis but I’ve never seen him look at the hole before. He was looking at the hole when he was hitting putts, and they were going in from all different distances, but I’ve never seen that before, but it obviously worked. I didn’t know — obviously I hadn’t played a lot of golf out here on TOUR, so I hadn’t seen him putt cross-handed, either. That was a double combo, putting cross-handed and looking at the hole that I hadn’t seen before. But he was hitting it just fine. He hit a couple balls to the right, lost a few to the right, but he was starting to come around the second day. He was starting to flush it. It was just a matter of getting some putts to go in, and he made all those big par putts. Forget all the birdie putts from 20 feet or 30 feet but he was making every single par putt from 10 feet on in, so it kept the momentum of the round going and it kept building and kept building and kept building, so it really wasn’t a surprise that he contended if he just kept playing like that, and he did over the weekend.
Q: Do you still feel the rush from 2000 and 2005 when you were out there? Do the emotions come back?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, they do, absolutely. Absolutely. Even from ’95, too, as well, seeing — in ’95 it was Arnold’s last time around here. Jack made two last trips around here, and then obviously the last time we played here with the wind delay, having the balls blow backwards at you, that was quite an experience. I was talking to Duf about it, and Duf had a putt from about eight feet, and he hit it up next to the hole, hit a four-footer coming back, it blew back to him, hit the next putt past the hole and then marked it, put the ball down, and it blew almost in the hole. That’s when they decided to call play. We’ve seen it under different conditions, and yes, I am excited every time I come back here.
Q: Having won twice here and played very well here several other times, is the one key thought when you’re going out there, I mustn’t do this or I must do this, something before you start that that is the main thought?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I think it’s all dependent on the wind, what wind direction you’re getting, because you’re going to have nine holes that are probably going to play on the easier side and nine holes that are going to play on the tougher side, and you don’t know whether it’s going to be going out or coming in. Obviously the into-the-wind holes are going to be a little bit more difficult. It’s hard to carry some of the bunkers in some of the fairways sometimes, but you’ve got to make your hay on the holes that are downwind, on the ones that are easy. You’ve got to be able to make those birdies, and sometimes you’ve just got to hang in there on the holes that are into the wind. My first time around here, a practice round on Monday after I played the Scottish Open at Carnoustie, I just happened to get the tide when it changed out there at the loop, so I played all 18 holes into the wind, and so I’ve always said it was the longest short golf course I’ve ever played in my life.
Q: Do you think much about Jack’s record these days or have you accepted in your own mind that it’s a dream too far off at this point?
TIGER WOODS: No, not at all. I’m still young. I’m not 40 yet. I know some of you guys think I’m buried and done, but I’m still right here in front of you. Yeah, I love playing. I love competing, and I love playing these events.
Q: You’ve been in the position back in 2002 where you won the first two majors of the year. You came to the Open and you kind of got blown away by the elements to a certain extent. How do you feel Jordan Spieth will be able to handle it this week with the expectation about the possibility of a Grand Slam?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I remember in 2002 from my own experience, I put myself right there in contention after two rounds. I think I was about three or four back at the time, so I was playing great. I was right there with a great chance going into the weekend. Just happened to catch it at the wrong time and then came back on Sunday, and I think I shot 65 on Sunday. He’s playing well, obviously. He’s won two major championships and just won last week. Obviously he’s in great form. It’s just a matter of going out there and executing his game plan. I mean, that’s what he talks about a lot is formulating a game plan and executing it, and this is a golf course in which you have to do that. You have to execute it and trust it and be a very good lag putter because you’re going to have a good shot sometimes is going to be 40, 50, 60, 70 feet away, and you just can’t get it close. The wind is blowing too hard. To be able to lag putt those putts stone dead is very key.
Q: How disappointing is it for the sport that the world No. 1 is not here to defend his title this week, and as someone who’s been beset with injury himself, what advice would you offer to Rory McIlroy?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, we talked a bit about the injury and what happened, and obviously some of his options going forward. Obviously he’s going to be disappointed. He won this championship last year and played awesome coming in, had total control of the ball, and just — I mean, he hit it great on Sunday. Obviously he hit it great the rest of the days but really in particular on Sunday. And obviously carried it into the PGA. This is a championship that means a lot to him, and to be back here at the home course, it’s a little tough to take sometimes, but we all get injured out here, and no one is immune to it. We all have to go through knickknack injuries here and there, and I hope he comes back, but also hope he comes back healthy and ready to go.
Q: Just going back to your point about how a five mile-an-hour wind can change the course completely —
TIGER WOODS: Five-degree change.
Q: Is this a particularly difficult course to do what Jordan is trying to do in light of the fact he’s never seen the course in competition?
TIGER WOODS: Well, it depends on the practice rounds. Depends on where the wind is on the practice rounds. It’s primarily been coming off the west, if not south-southwest, and yesterday was the first time we’ve seen it out of the north. He got a chance to play it out of — basically out of the north. I haven’t been out there yet today. I don’t know if it’s blowing out of the south-southwest again, but I think it was supposed to be mainly out of the south-southwest most of the week. I think having seen it in varied wind conditions is very key because the bunkering comes into play. It totally changes things. You look at certain holes, for instance, let’s take a very simple hole like 9; 9 is a driver all day and drive it on the green. It comes into you, all of a sudden, okay, now I’ve got to lay up short of the cross bunkers then play a totally different hole, whereas now 10 is a drivable hole. So it changes things quite a bit. The bunkers on 14 up the left side aren’t in play. Then all of a sudden you get a wind shift, yesterday when we played, we were all just scooting those bunkers, whereas the day before we were carrying them. It makes for a very difficult — sometimes it can be a very difficult adjustment because your lines have to be so different. Some holes we were taking up over the grandstand like Kuch did yesterday, took it up over the grandstand on 13, over 12 grandstand, took it over the top to put it over into 6 fairway, but I mean, he was asking do we actually play over here? I said, yeah, you play over here with certain pins in certain winds. He goes, okay, whatever I do, just don’t smother it. (Laughter.)
Q: You mentioned the importance of lag putting here. Is there anything that goes into doing that well beyond just being a good putter generally?
TIGER WOODS: I think it’s just getting a feel, a feel for how these particular greens are. Right now they’re a little bit on the slower side just because they don’t have the spring effect. They’re a little wet. And because of that they’re putting a little bit slower than we’ve seen here in tournaments past. But that’s what it’s going to be all week. Just got to make the adjustment. Traditionally when we come over here to the Open Championship the greens are generally slower than what we play in the States. This time it’s quite a bit slower and probably it’s going to be even slower after we get the rain on Friday.
MODERATOR: Tiger, thank you. Best of luck this week.