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Can Tiger Get No. 15?


It's been a long four years since Tiger Woods last won a major championship. It was at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines when Woods endured 91 holes - 72 in regulation, an 18-hole playoff against Rocco Mediate and one hole of a sudden-death playoff - with what was later determined to be a severely injured left knee.

Ever since then, Woods has experienced one of the most famous SUV crashes in history, a bitter divorce, several other injuries and subsequent rehabs, a switch in instructors from Hank Haney to Sean Foley, and a significant retooling of his golf swing. After a victory in the 2009 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, it wasn't until late March of this year that Woods returned to the winner's circle, at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Lo and behold, he then won again two weeks ago at the Memorial. The victory was the 73rd of his still-young career, tying him for second place on the all-time list with Memorial host Jack Nicklaus, and placing him only nine behind career leader Sam Snead.

But Woods is a professional tour player for the simple reason of winning majors and achieving greatness, and that four-year lag between major titles is on his and everyone else's minds this week as the U.S. Open starts Thursday at the Olympic Club in San Francisco.

On Tuesday, Woods met with reporters and discussed the state of his game in advance of the Open, his thoughts on the championship site, and what his chances are to get that elusive 15th major title, which would put him only three behind Nicklaus's all-time record of 18. Here's the transcript of that Q&A with the media.

MODERATOR: Good morning. It is my pleasure to welcome 9 time USGA and 3 time U.S. Open champion Tiger Woods to the media center today. He is playing in his 17th U.S. Open. He did not play at Congressional, due to injury. He did play in 1998 here at the Olympic Club, tied for 18th. He will be playing with Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson. It will be live streaming HD coverage. It will be available exclusively on U.S. Open.com and the U.S. Open app. Tiger is coming off his 73rd professional victory at the Memorial tournament.

TIGER WOODS: Feels good. Looking forward to it. Played the golf course now a couple of times. And it's quick out there. It's getting there. It's getting up to speed. I'm sure that it will get quicker as the week goes on. But it's going to be a wonderful test. All the greens have obviously been redone since we were here in '98. The new chipping areas are certainly different. Got to get used to some of those different shots. I'm excited about playing. Excited about this golf course. I've played a lot here in college and it's great to be back.

Q. Of all the changes since '98, what are the one or two that will most impact this tournament, in your view?

TIGER WOODS: Well, first all my charts are all outdated because they've resurfaced every green. So I had to do a whole new book. But also I think that the new chipping areas, as I was saying earlier, are way different. We had balls that were landing on the green on 13 that were going in the hazard. That's a big change. That and a couple of bunkers have been moved. The 8th hole is obviously different from what we played. But it's weird playing the two holes, one is a par 5 and one is a par 4, the same distance. Being the 1 and 17. They're identically the same distance. And playing as a par, the last two holes - two of the last three holes being par 5s, back to back, we don't see a golf course like that unless we play Baltusrol. We have to wait that long before we play a par 5. There's a big premium on driving the golf ball and shaping it. The speed of these fairways are picking up, it's going to be a great test.

Q. Only one person has won back to back U.S. Opens in the last half century. When you played this tournament as a defending champion were you fully aware of that history and did it add any motivation or pressure for you that wasn't there already?

TIGER WOODS: Well, certainly I was aware of it, there's no doubt. But it's not easy to do. This is probably the hardest test that we play all year. What makes it difficult, I think, is that we're playing different venues each and every year. It's not like Augusta National where we're playing the same golf course each and every year. We have to relearn a whole new golf course. So what Curtis did in '88, '89, and then contended again in '90 is awfully impressive. Because it is so hard to do. It's such a big test and such a grind. And as I said, learning a whole new golf course each and every time, it's tough. Some venues fit your eye, some don't. To do it back to back is just such an amazing feet.

Q. You and Phil have been going up against each other for 16 years now. Will there be any particular motivation being paired with him on Thursday? What will you talk about out there?

TIGER WOODS: I don't think we're going to talk about a lot. This is a Major championship. We've got work to do. Any extra motivation? No. I'm just trying to get out there and position myself for Sunday. This is a long grind. We're teeing off of No. 9, so we don't get to play obviously the first six holes until it's basically our back nine. It's such a test playing in this championship. I think this is one of those championships that I think the guys talk the least to one another because it's so difficult.

Every shot is - there's no shot you can take off, so to speak. Sometimes - say you're playing St. Andrews, and you go ahead and wail away, no big deal. But here there's such a premium on positioning the golf ball.

Q. Obviously you won two weeks ago, you've won twice this year. Yet there seems to be that question of, are you back to your old self until you win a major championship. How much do you want to silence those critics or do you listen to that and what's your thought of ending that sort of discussion?

TIGER WOODS: Which question do you want me to answer? (Laughter).

Q. Do you have to win a major in order to end that discussion?

TIGER WOODS: I think even if I do win a major championship, it will still be, you're not to 18 yet, or when will you get to 19. It's always something with you guys. I've dealt with that my entire career, ever since I was an amateur and playing all the way through and to professional golf, it hasn't changed.

Q. Two quick things, first of all, what would be the best you could hope for on the first six holes? Obviously you would want six birdies. But realistically what would you hope to do? Secondly, you played with Casey, maybe a quick thought on how he's playing. You probably haven't seen him much since '98.

TIGER WOODS: I think that the first six, if you play them for four straight days even par, you're going to be picking up just a boat load of shots. They're just difficult. It will be interesting to see where they put the tees on some of these holes, because obviously they can put 1 back, they can put three back. They've shown us two different tee locations on five. So they can mix/match a little bit and give us a break or just hammer us. So we'll see what happens. The thing is, we all know back in the older U.S. Opens, it was always back. Now Mike throws wrinkles in every now and then. You've just got to make those adjustments. As far as playing with Casey, man, it's great to see him. I haven't seen him in a while. And he's now the coach of the Ducks. And just so happy in life. It's neat to see him - he played the Tour out here, tried that and he was happy doing it, but it's not like he is now. It's good to see him in a really good place.

Q. One of the interesting things about Memorial is you won the tournament finishing T 41 in putting, that's with the chip in. How do you feel - this is a course obviously a lot of 6-, 8-footers for par are going to have to go in for the winner. How do you feel your putting is and is there anything you've worked on to try and get back the stroke?

TIGER WOODS: Well, that's the thing, at Memorial those putts were going in. I just didn't make anything from about 15 to 20 feet, basically nothing. But I made a ton of putts from 10 feet and in. So that's a positive thing. On this golf course it's going to be difficult to get the ball close. And I'm going to rely a lot on lag putting and obviously we're going to have to make those short putts. Even if you miss the green, pitches are - a good pitch is going to be anything inside 8 feet sometimes. That part I'm not too worried about.

Q. A little more on Casey. Based on your friendship going back a number ever years now, talk about his struggles and how tough it's been. And how he's impressed you and indeed everybody with his mental fortitude?

TIGER WOODS: Unless you really know him I don't think people really have appreciation of how much pain he's in. Just the every day pain he lives with. He doesn't show it, doesn't talk about it, doesn't complain about it, he just lives with it. I saw it in college, he was my roommate on the road a few times. And this is back when we were playing 36 18. I don't know how he did it, to be honest with you. I just don't know how he did it. For him to try and play the Tour, just try in itself is just amazing. And to get out here and play a few events and try to make a career out of it, it's hats off to him.

The pain threshold that you have to have to deal with it. And you just look at him, he's always so happy. It's very easy to go the other way and be very bitter, because of how uncomfortable he is on a daily basis. But I think that's what makes him special. That's what makes him so different than everyone else, he has such a strong will and such a strong spirit.

Q. When was the first time you played with Phil in a tournament? What do you remember about that? How is your view of him and his game evolved in the many years since then?

TIGER WOODS: I don't really remember the first time we played. Do you know?

Q. Junior golf at all?

TIGER WOODS: No, I was done - sorry, he was done with amateur golf and college golf by the time I got in there.

Q. Any recollections of the first time as a pro, then?

TIGER WOODS: Nhuh uh. We've had a lot of battles throughout the years, I can tell you that. We've gone head to head a few times throughout the years. But ironically I think I've gone head to head more with two other guys. I know I have. I've gone head to head more with Ernie (Els) and Vijay (Singh) second and I think Phil would be third.

Q. What is that like for you to go head to head against Phil?

TIGER WOODS: Well, it's different for us ever to be paired up in the same group, first of all. That never happens. We try to spread it around a little bit. That's why 2008 was so different for us. Because on the Tour we never get that pairing. For us to get that pairing was exciting I think for everyone and I think this year will be the same.

Q. In recent years you've been consistent in saying that you still believed in your chances to break Jack's record. How long do you think in terms of years is that window of opportunity for you and how confident do you remain that you will be able to get the five that you need in that period of time?

TIGER WOODS: Well, Jack did it at 46, right? So I've got 10. Watson almost pulled it off at 59. It can be done. We can play for a very long time. And that's the great thing about staying in shape and lifting weights and being fit is that the playing careers have extended. Look how many guys are 50 plus still playing out here. And Tom Pernice just came back out and started playing. Guys are extending their careers and playing for a lot longer than they used to. Most of the guys used to shut it down in early 40s. Bu like Vijay, he won almost 30 events, just in his 40s alone.

Q. In your view what kind of a golf course provides the most comprehensive examination of a player's skills during a championship, this kind of a golf course or links golf when there's wind or Augusta National the way it's been set up recently, or the PGA, is there one type of course that offers the most complete examination of a game?

TIGER WOODS: I think this probably tests the player more than any other championship. We have to shape the ball. We have to hit the ball high. We have to hit the ball low. Our short game's got to be dialed in. The only thing that's different with U.S. Opens in past it was always, miss the green, automatic lob wedge. Now with some of these runoff areas, we can play bump and runs, we can play skip shots, we could flop it if we wanted to. We have different options. So I think what Mike has done has been remarkable at testing us.

And then the U.S. Opens prior to when Mike took over, it was very simple, the tee locations were always the same. And it was always the same golf course for four straight days. Now we've got to make adjustments. He moves different tee boxes. What he did on the Torrey Pines on 14, making that drivable par 4, it throws - he throws different wrinkles at you. But overall I think this is just the most demanding test that there is in golf.

Q. Now there's a 14 year old in the field this year. How do you explain guys playing better younger? Do you take kind of a certain pride, let's face it, these guys all grew up watching you?

TIGER WOODS: Well, I think what helps is technology. With video cameras, slow mo, the V 1, all these different things that people can imitate and slow it down. I grew up in an era where VHS and you always had to adjust the tracking. So you never really got the exact positioning of it. These kids are now bringing out iPads to the range and watching their swing and breaking it down on the V 1. That's totally different. Like Hogan said, if he had a video camera the changes would happen so much faster. These kids are now being introduced when they first start. I saw a few of these kids over in Korea that they've only been playing the game for a year. And six months of it was all indoors hitting golf balls. All they did was put the club in the correct position to hit balls, hit balls, hit balls, and that's it. They come out and they have perfect golf swings. That's the new generation. The swings are all going to look very similar, and all these kids are going to have power.

Q. Do you like it personally? There is a Tiger effect with these kids.

TIGER WOODS: Yeah, there is a little bit of that. But I think that the game has become more global. I think that's where the biggest change has been. It's not just American players and European players anymore. It's from all over the world, literally all over the world now. And they're all playing at high levels. And that's what's making this game so great and so difficult at the same time.

Q. Your win at Bay Hill obviously it didn't translate at the Masters the way you would have liked. Now you've won again coming into a Major. What's different this time? Do you sense a different feeling this week as you approach another major than you did, say at Augusta?

TIGER WOODS: Yeah, when I went into Augusta and I've told you guys this, I know, after, that I did not feel comfortable hitting the ball up. And I got back into a lot of my old patterns. Unfortunately, it didn't work out. But that's what made playing Muirfield so nice is that I had those shots and I was doing it the correct way. And I had compression, hitting the ball high and hitting it long. That was fun.

Q. Your thoughts on Bubba Watson? Do you have much of a relationship with him. What do you think about him, the guy and the player?

TIGER WOODS: I've played a little bit with Bubba over the years. I've never seen a guy shape the ball as much as he does in this generation of players. We saw it a little bit with Chi Chi, but the movement with his ball is pretty impressive. You've got to have a lot of speed and he does. And when he decides to flatten it out and not shape it, I don't think there's anybody can keep up with him out here.

Q. What are the differences of playing this golf course very early in the morning versus very late in the afternoon?

TIGER WOODS: It will be a little bit faster, a little bit drier in the afternoon. But it doesn't dry out that much here. The cooler temperatures just doesn't allow it. But it will be interesting to see how much water they put on the golf course from here on in. Where Mike and his staff want the scores to be at.

Q. With all the uphill, downhill, side hill lies on this particular course, does that have any impact on your knee or is that completely a non-issue now?

TIGER WOODS: It's finally a non-issue.

Q. Cast your mind back to when you were 14 years young. Is there any part of you when you reflect on young Andy Zhang's achievement, any part of you say, that's just too young?

TIGER WOODS: He qualified. He earned a spot. I tried it when I was 15 but he earned a spot. He went out there and went through both sections, both stages, I'm sorry, and did it. It's not too young if you can do it. There's no -that's the great thing about this game, it's not handed to you. You have to go out and put up the numbers and he did. He shot the scores he needed to qualify and move on and he did and he's here playing on the biggest stage. Just think about the experience he's going to gain playing in this event. How well that's going to serve him playing junior events and high school events.

Q. Comparing Olympic to other U.S. Open courses, are there any particular skills or types of shots that you need here more than other U.S. Open courses, like maybe curving the ball or something?

TIGER WOODS: Yeah, you have to curve it more off the tees here than any other golf course that we play. Even to the greens, you've got right to left slopes of, let's say right to left slopes of fairways and greens, and you have to cut it, so you're going against the grain. It's the same thing on the flip side. That's the neat thing about this golf course is it seems like the majority of the doglegs kind of run away from you. And it puts a big premium on shaping the ball. But also it puts a big premium on game planning, what you want to do, where you want to hit it. And being committed to that.

Q. You've always played very well at Pebble Beach. I wonder, do you think there are similarities between this course and Pebble Beach and how you might approach it?

TIGER WOODS: Not at all. Not at all, no. They're two completely different golf courses. When we play Pebble, yeah, the fairways are somewhat canted a little, but not like this. This is different. And also, you know, having an extra par 5 helps. The wind tends to blow more than it does here. It does coming over the top of these trees and the clubhouse and coming down into the golf course, but it's different. But probably the only thing that is a commonality between the two is the heavy air. The ball just didn't fly. It doesn't go very far here. And what's allowing us to hit the ball further off the tee is the fairways are fast.

Q. As something of a golf historian, you look back at Fleck won over Hogan in '55. Casper rallied in '66, Simpson edged out Watson in '77 and of course '98. Any theory why Olympic seems to produce an upset or the favorite doesn't come through?

TIGER WOODS: Well, I mean I don't know, but Billy Casper was just in here, right? And he won 50-plus events, three major championships, that's not that big an upset I mean, geez. He's a hell of a player. Scott Simpson playing Watson, Scott Simpson playing on U.S. Open venues, period, was always tough to beat. Certain guys do really well in certain events.

Scott Simpson has got his record in this event. Like Payne Stewart had his record in this event. Lee Janzen who won here, he did well in U.S. Opens. I think this golf course, if you look at all those golfers that you named, they all shaped the ball. And I think they're proficient at going either way with the golf ball. And if you're going to pick one thing that's common between all those players, is they had a comfort of shaping the ball either way.

I was reading something a long time ago about Arnold playing this event. He likes to draw the ball. But he learned how to hit a cut just for this event. He did all right. He had a seven shot lead with nine to go. He became proficient at hitting it either way. And I think that's what you have to do on this golf course, because as I say, the doglegs run away from you. And we have to hit the ball with some kind of shape to keep them in there. And with the fairways getting fast, that rough just comes up quick.

Q. You finished in the top 20 here 14 years ago. A different golfer. What did you take away? Were you happy, unhappy with your play, and when you left here?

TIGER WOODS: Frustrated. Frustrated. Just like you are at most U.S. Opens. I was frustrated. I was right in the middle of the changing of my game. And it was just a frustrating time going through that and playing this venue during that time was not easy.

Q. You mentioned if you played the first six in even par you'd gain a bunch of strokes. Would you have to play the last three in under par -

TIGER WOODS: Absolutely, absolutely, you're going to have to, yes.

Q. Is that a little unusual for the finish of a U.S. Open?

TIGER WOODS: Well, it gives you a chance to finish off a round. Generally we're just trying to hang on coming in and make a bunch of pars. But you're trying to make a bunch of pars throughout most of the day, and then all of a sudden you've got to change gears. If you hit two good shots into 16 you're going to have a wedge in there, which you should make birdie. Same thing on 17. And same thing on 18. So you have three holes back to back either you're chipping, you're wedging, so you're going to have to make some birdies there, absolutely.

Q. It takes thousands of volunteers to put on the U.S. Open. As a player, how do you feel about the volunteers that help out here?

TIGER WOODS: Absolutely incredible. We run our events and without the volunteers these events wouldn't happen. They take time off of work to come out here and support the event and volunteer their time. And we as players always say thank you to all of them whenever we can, because they do a hell of a job.

Q. The traditional Sunday Father's Day finish, anymore special to play the U.S. Open with all the memories you have, obviously, of your dad?

TIGER WOODS: Yeah, it is special, there's no doubt. Having my father alive for a couple of them was really special. This tournament meant so much to my dad because he just loved the fact that you got tested. Just the mental test. And, of course he's a spec op warrior, he's going to like that environment. That's something that I've always enjoyed when the golf course got a little more difficult and became more fun because you had to control more things within you. And ending it on Father's Day it means something to each and every one of us, just slightly different, obviously. But it has a very special meaning to me, for sure.

Q. Jack used to say on a regular basis that when he showed up, especially at a major, the tougher the conditions he felt the better chance he had of coming out on top. Are you of similar mindset?

TIGER WOODS: Well, I think that over the years I've always preferred it to be like that. I've always preferred it to be more difficult, there's no doubt. And I've always preferred it to be fast. I just like a fast golf course. Because then you have to shape shots. You have to think. You can't set up and hit your ball to a number and have it plug. The ball is going to have run out, have chase, what shape shot you're going to play. And the same things into the greens. That's also the reason I love playing links golf, because the ball does chase, it does move, it does move on the ground. And when the golf course gets harder and faster it is certainly something I like.

Q. What do you expect from Rory McIlroy and his defense this week, what special challenges will be facing him?

TIGER WOODS: I think he's coming off a tournament last week where he played really well. I think that's going to be great for his confidence. He had a few weeks where he didn't play the way that he knows he can play. But, hey, we all have those things happen. But last week was good for his confidence. He did some work at home, from what I hear, and went into Memphis and played great. It's going to serve him well this week.

MODERATOR: Tiger, thank you so much for coming in today. We appreciate you spending some time with us and we wish you well this week.

The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.