July 13, 2012

Tiger’s Blog: Getting ready for my favorite major

It’s been awhile since my last column, so I thought it would be a good time to check in before the British Open next week. I recently won my third tournament of the year at the AT&T National, and feel good about my game heading across the pond to compete at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in England.

It was great to win the AT&T National again at Congressional Country Club. I kept busy on and off the course and donated my first prize to my Foundation, which will benefit our scholars and a lot of local charities. Even with the bad weather that rolled in, we had a fantastic week, and I’m really proud of how everyone pulled together to get the event ready after the devastating storm.

It felt good to step up on that 18th tee on Sunday and hit the drive I know I can hit when I needed it. And to flip around and hit the exact opposite shot and draw my second shot in there. To shape two totally different shots and feel totally comfortable when I needed to, that felt really good.

I never thought about hitting a 3-wood off the tee at 18. I felt good hitting driver and went with it. I hit 3-wood from the up tee, but we had the back tee.

My other win came at the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club. To tie Jack’s (Nicklaus) PGA Tour record for wins (73) with him there was pretty cool. And then to have him there to talk about my chip-in at the 16th hole on Sunday and describe the circumstances, that was exactly how I was running through the scenario in my head. I thought it was pretty neat how we were both thinking the same thing.

I have to give a shout-out to my former Stanford teammate Notah Begay III. We just talked about putting philosophy; how I used to putt and what I used to do. He remembers how I used to putt in college, and I liked some of his thoughts and some of the things he was referring to. I started thinking about it, and I started doing it, and I started putting well again.

At the U.S. Open, I had the lead after 36 holes and put myself in good position to make a run at winning on Sunday at the Olympic Club. A couple shots got away from me at the end of the second round, then I got off to a slow start on Saturday. Things just didn’t quite go right, and I was just slightly off. On a golf course like Olympic, slightly off means a lot.

It wasn’t necessarily one of the toughest U.S. Open courses I’ve played, but it was one of the most exacting. You have to shape your ball off the tee just to keep it in the fairways. And then the greens getting pretty firm and we had runoffs on some of the greens that we didn’t have in ’98. I never did par the sixth hole. I decided to lay up there every day but Sunday, but I was already 5-over for the round and trying to make something happen. I didn’t quite hit the approach shots the way I needed to. But I thought that was the right way to play it, and a lot of guys played it the same way.

Although I missed the cut last week at The Greenbrier Classic, I didn’t play poorly. It’s a wonderful golf course, but I had trouble gauging distances with my short irons and it was tough for me to adjust to the greens. They were slower than I expected and had a lot of wobble in them. I will say the hospitality was great, and I received tremendous support from the fans of West Virginia.

Now, I’m focused on the British Open. This will be my third visit to Royal Lytham & St. Annes, where I tied for 22nd as an amateur in 1996 and tied for 25th in 2001. I like the golf course, but I know they have made some changes since we played there in ’01. I think they lengthened a few holes, so it will play different. Plus in ’01, it was pretty dry and firm. They’ve had a very wet summer, as we saw at Wimbledon, and the golf course is pretty soft.

Weather plays such a huge role in the tournament. It will be interesting to see how the course is set up. It’s different, because we’re not really on the water — we’re slightly inland. That train track that runs right along the golf course gets a lot of use that week. But there have been some great matches there.

The time change is easy because I play all over the world. It’s getting used to the conditions that week. Each British Open has its own little quirks.

For instance, Hoylake was burnt out; some years at St. Andrews, the wind blew hard; this year, it will be a little bit softer than it normally plays. But we don’t know if it’s going to rain or blow, so that adds different challenges as the week develops. I’ll bring my 5-wood and 2-iron, and decide which club to carry once I get there and feel out the conditions.

You can have so many different weather conditions. You just don’t know. That’s one of the unique things about the British Open and why it’s my favorite major championship. It’s the only tournament besides the sandbelt courses in Australia that we can actually use the ground as a friend and bounce the ball into the greens. Modern golf is all up in the air.

I want to offer my congratulations to Roger Federer for winning Wimbledon. We’ve been friends for a long time and he played fantastic tennis in the finals against Andy Murray.

I also want to offer my condolences to the wife and family of Peter Sauer. He played basketball when I attended Stanford and had a great career, captaining the Cardinal to the Final Four in 1998. Peter died last Sunday night during a pickup basketball game in White Plains, N.Y., at the age of 35, which is way too young. My heart goes out to his family and friends.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading and look forward to catching up after the British Open.