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Tiger All Set for Return to Winner's Circle


Ten years later, Tiger Woods has returned to the place of perhaps his biggest victory, Pebble Beach Golf Links. He won the 2000 U.S. Open by a whopping 15 shots, an all-time record in a major championship.

The 34-year-old Woods played his first round at Pebble Beach when he was just a youngster and now, 18 years later, he cannot believe all of the changes that have been made to the course in response to the ever-evolving golf-club technology.

When discussing Pebble's famous par-5 18th, the 14-time major winner said: "It's just how much technology has changed the game and even in 2000 it was somewhat reachable, now with no wind with 543 yards it's, we almost play par-4 it's that long now. Par-4s on Tour, and in major championships are around 520 now, so it's not too far out of reach for a par-4."

Woods was in good spirits Tuesday when he met with reporters on the eve of this week's U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Here's what the game's top-ranked player had to say.

MODERATOR: We would like to welcome Tiger Woods three-time U.S. Open champion with us. Tiger is playing in his 16th U.S. Open. Most memorably in 2000 his historic victory by 15 shots here. Tiger, can you speak a little bit about returning to Pebble Beach for the U.S. Open this week and what it means to be back here.

TIGER WOODS: It's great to be back, I haven't been here in I believe about eight years now, so it's great to be back. It's interesting to see the golf course how much it has changed some of the redesigns that they have had. Different strategies, different shots, and obviously it's playing a lot firmer than it does here in February. So the greens are starting to get a little bit more springy, starting to come to life now, and it's only going to get probably going to get more springy as the days go on.

Q. Talk about the 18th hole and can I remember when you played it in early Crosby AT&T and you went there in two and almost caught Mark O'Meara. The first time you grew up reading about it, knowing about it, the first time you saw 18, what did you think of it, and how would you -- and now over the years, do you have a special appreciation for it?

TIGER WOODS: First time I played here I was either 12 or 13, somewhere in there. And I just couldn't believe how long it was. And now we're playing it with a heightening driver, irons in there. It's just how much technology has changed the game and even in 2000 it was somewhat reachable, now with no wind with 543 yards it's, we almost play par-4 it's that long now. Par-4s on Tour, and in major championships are around 520 now, so it's not too far out of reach for a par-4. So I guess prior to 2020 it will probably be a par-4 now. But it's certainly one of the most exciting, most recognizable holes in all of golf, if not the most. As we have gone through the years, it's certainly changed quite a bit with where the fairway used to be, the bunkers, the tree being lost, couple trees, actually, so still it's just a great hole.

Q. The one tee shot in 2000, when you whacked it in, that you hit it in there, into the bay. Talk about that?

TIGER WOODS: I hit it halfway to Japan. Yeah. (Laughter.)

Q. Jack's been saying all year that as it relates to his record in the Majors, that this is a big year for you, given the Pebble/St. Andrews rotation. Your thoughts on that.

TIGER WOODS: I think every year's a big year, any time you have a chance to win four major championships. Certainly the venues do set up well and some years they don't. But it doesn't mean you can't win on them.

Q. After playing a few tournaments and playing a few practice rounds here, how would you assess your game? And also are you extra motivated because you have such a strong pairing the first two rounds?

TIGER WOODS: As far as my game I'm very excited about how it's progressed, since before Memorial then obviously during Memorial and now here it's gotten better. The more time I've been able to practice and play, it's start to solidify and just I'm actually really excited to tee it up on Thursday. And then as far as my pairing I got a great pairing this week. Seems like I get Westwood every Major Championship though. But it's neat to have Ernie in the group, I think we're going to have a good time. Obviously Westwood is playing great, just won last week, Ernie's been playing great as well this year.

Q. Follow-up on the venue question, when the sites were announced for this season the phrase "Tiger's wheelhouse" was kicked around a lot. If you had your druthers and you could choose four Major sites that you would love to play in a season in your game, where would you pick?

TIGER WOODS: I'd probably pick St. Andrews all four times. (Laughter.)

Q. On the basis that all our professional lives, all our professional lives, are affected by our personal lives, can you tell us if you've got any resolution one way or the other with Elin yet?

TIGER WOODS: That's none of your business.

Q. When you were younger how many times did you try to duplicate Watson's chip at 17 and what were the results?

TIGER WOODS: Actually never. For some reason we could never get rough like that. There's no way you can get rough like that. So you can't ever duplicate the chip or replicate it.

Q. Did you ever go to the spot, though, and check it out when you were younger the first couple times you were here?

TIGER WOODS: First couple times when I was here when I played in the AT&T, yeah, I came over, took a look at it and it's totally different when it's fast. When we play AT&T it's probably not the hardest shot. It's soft, you know it's going to plug, but when you get the greens like this to for him to hit that kind of shot, he got the lie for it, as you said, numerous times, but still to pull it off is a whole different ball game.

Q. You played with Dustin Johnson in the practice round yesterday, who won the last two AT&Ts. Was that a good way to reacquaint yourself since 2002 and did you learn anything from playing with him yesterday?

TIGER WOODS: Yeah, he's just stupid long. It's just - it's ridiculous. I mean 226 yesterday on the 17th and it's into the wind and he hits 4-iron over the green. I don't know how many of you guys have that shot, but not too many of us out here certainly do. 4-wood, maybe. But the way he played yesterday was very similar to how he played in the AT&T. He took driver off of the holes that he normally would and was a pretty aggressive game plan.

Q. You talk about being excited about being paired with Lee Westwood, how strongly do you assess the challenge from him and the other Englishmen who have enjoyed the resurgent year so far?

TIGER WOODS: I don't think it's just the English men. There's a lot of guy that is are playing well. Whether it's Westwood or Ernie who I'm playing with or some of the new young guys, Rory or Ryo, there's a lot of kids and a lot of guys now who are playing well at the same time. And then obviously you have Phil there. So it's a pretty good year because there's a lot of guys who are playing well at the same time.

Q. Ernie was just in here a second ago talking about your win in 2000 and he called it a wake up call for lot of people. Obviously a lot has changed in your life over 10 years, but from a golf point of view, and Jack said he can't imagine somebody now with all the players out there winning by 15 shots. What has the game of golf undergone as far as a change since your win in 2000 and how has the playing field sort of leveled?

TIGER WOODS: Technology certainly has been a huge step. Back in 2000 the average length of shaft was still about 43 and a half. And now you buy it off the rack or you see these guys are 45 and I think Paddie was using 47 inches at Quail Hollow. So I mean that's changed quite a bit. The ball's gotten harder. Guys are hitting it just a lot further. And the guys have really taken fitness seriously. There weren't a whole lot of guys in the gym when I first came out on Tour. A couple funny stories but I can't share them in here. But certain they were not serious about it. And look at now, most of the guys carry trainers, week to week, and the guys are trying to stay fit, trying to make sure that they're in the best condition possible to win every week, which is very different than what it used to be.

Q. Lee Westwood spoke of watching England/USA in the World Cup the other day. What do you make of America's draw with England 1-1?

TIGER WOODS: It was a gift. Certainly was a gift. That was a nice little gift on the goal there. I hope he gets a chance to play and is not finished.

Q. What was it like to play with Joseph, to catch up with Conrad and why did you call it a day at 14?

TIGER WOODS: Let's see, Joe has been on the team for a few years and they have been coming down to play at Isleworth in the tournament that we have there and I invite them to dinner at the house and we have a nice barbecue each other year and Conrad brings the kids over and we have a good time talking about golf and we just have had a great time, I got to know him there. And then right before the Presidents Cup I was out there hanging with the guys there and we had a chipping contest, so it was a two old fogies, Conrad and I, and took on all the youngsters and we beat them, of course. But it was great to play with Joe and catch up and it also is great to see him healthy again. He's been struggling with a bad wrist for the last couple years and to see him out there and not flinching, not in pain, it's he's such a great kid to begin with. It's good to see. And the reason why I called up there, called it, it was long, slow, and just conserving energy to where we play nine holes and it was just going to be very slow on the back nine. So and probably the main reason I really wanted to get in here and talk to you guys on time. (Laughter.)

Q. Any update on the neck and if you're having to deal with it day-to-day and how do you manage there that?

TIGER WOODS: The neck is better. It's not where I want it, but it is better, no doubt. It does get sore from time to time. But as I said, at Memorial, I can recovered for the next day. And I haven't had any days where I couldn't go the next day. That's a big step in the right direction.

Q. What will be your message to the young golfers that are starting their careers?

TIGER WOODS: Well, you just got to continue to enjoy it. The game is just a lot of fun. And it is a game. I think a lot of people lose sight of that. Especially the kids. If you keep it fun, keep it competitive and have a good time with it, then there's no reason why you can't do this for a long time.

Q. There has been a lot made lately about -- Johnny Miller just said it again the other day about a lot of golfers even though they have careers into their 40s, tend to have a Major burn out by like mid 30s. Arnold didn't win another one after 34, neither did Watson. Jack won four after 36. Why do you think that is, and secondly, how will you try to reverse that trend?

TIGER WOODS: I think it's how much you've played has a lot to do with it. I think Jack paced himself pretty good. He didn't play a lot. Arnold played a ton. And he traveled all over the world. Gary played a lot and he still is playing a lot. Still traveling all over the world. But I think it's -- if you want to maintain a level for a long period of time, one, you've got to stay healthy and a lot of these guys started having injuries. Jack had a bad hip. So it is tough to play late with guys who are my age or and younger are working out, at a much earlier age and are much more fit and there's no reason why they can't play well into their late 40s or even into their 50s if they stay on a regimen. A lot of these players of that generation started a little bit late on their fitness regime and kind of missed the boat on that. But if you look at some of the players who are a little bit older than me, like Kenny Perry or Vijay who's kept themselves fit they're having great success late in their 40s.

Q. Is it harder mentally?

TIGER WOODS: Is it harder mentally? Well, I think that you sort of have more things in your life. You have family. A lot of these guys started doing golf courses all around the world, business, other business ventures started popping up. And you start taking time away from practice. There's nothing wrong with that, you just have to be more focused when you do do it. And I think there's no other person who has been better at it than Jack.

Q. From what you've seen of the golf course the last three days how many drivers do you think you might hit and where would you be thinking about hitting them?

TIGER WOODS: Well it's changed a little bit. Probably only going to hit just handful of drivers out here. The golf course is getting so fast. Some of the holes where you would think you would hit driver, 3-wood's now starting to become a choice. When I first got here on Sunday, No. 7 was into the wind, sorry, 6 was into the wind and driver was a perfect club. Today it was just a little 3-wood down there. And I still had iron. Just the wind had changed. So the fairways are drying out, the wind has a lot to do with it, but I think it's more than anything it's these fairways are starting to get really quick.

Q. They moved some of the fairways on some of the cliffside holes from right over to the precipice. I'm wondering if have you gone over there and taken a look? I understand you might have hit a ball on to the sand in one of your practice rounds. Your thoughts on that. And then second unrelated question, Mickelson finished second in this thing five times, is there a way psychologically can you flip that around and use it to your advantage, maybe with the thinking that I've been close, one of these days it's got to work out?

TIGER WOODS: As far as hitting the ball on the sand, no. I hit a ball out of a bunker. Does that count?

Q. Smaller version.

TIGER WOODS: Let's see. Have I taken a look at that? No, I've just taken a look at my lines on where I want the ball to go, where I want the ball to land and how it's going to release and that's basically how I approach all venues. As far as Phil is concerned, I think that just by finishing second five times it goes to show you that he understands how to play Opens. He's been -- this is the toughest event to win and he's been right there so many times. It's just a matter of time before he gets it done. But he understands how to put himself there and what it takes over the long haul to be in that position. And that's not easy to do. But he's done just a great job of it over the years.

Q. This is the first time that we're going to play a U.S. Open with the new grooves that are going to be in some of your clubs. Can you talk about how the golf course is set up and how that sort of relates to the new grooves and if it's going to be any different now that you got those grooves in your clubs as opposed to when you played here previously?

TIGER WOODS: Well, I have only had it in my wedges so I can't say about all the other clubs. Some of the guys have had throughout their entire set. I've only had squares in my two sand wedges and that was it. So for me to play -- I've played what since November with them. So I feel comfortable with them and on Tour -- I probably play the softest ball out here on Tour, so that sort of helps as well.

Q. You mentioned that it's been eight years since you've been out here. Is there any way you can maybe go into a little bit more depth on how they have narrowed the fairways and maybe go into the detail about the rough?

TIGER WOODS: Yeah, since I've opinion here 2 we didn't use that tee box on 2. We used the tee box now we're using is one tee box back. Those bunkers weren't designed like that when I played here in 2000. 3, those are new bunkers down the right they weren't like that. 4's a little bit different. 6 is way different. The shot that I hit up the hill on the second round or whatever it was, first or second round. Up the hill with the 6-iron out of the rough. That's no longer there. They have take taken that rough out. We had so much more room the fairways were more left, those bunkers are different. 9's a new tee, new bunkering. 10 is a new tee, new bunkering. 11, new fairway shift. 13, new tee box, new bunkers. 14, a new bunker, new bunkers to me. 15 is a new bunker down the middle of the fairway that wasn't there before. And 18 is obviously a big shift. They have moved the fairway in there quite a bit as well.

Q. Could you talk about the keys to putting on poa and have the greens changed much since you've been here last?

TIGER WOODS: Keys to putting on poa, you have to hit the ball solidly. You can't mishit putts on poa and expect it to go in. You have to hit pure putts because you know it's going to bounce. A lot of the guys who grew up playing poa feel very comfortable with that. It's like guys who play on Bermuda grass. If you grew up playing on Bermuda grass you'll have no problem playing on Bermuda. Look at most of the guys who have won here at AT&T are west coast guys. But it's one of those things where you got to get up there and hit it and hit it flush. And you know it's going to bounce. You're going to hit good putts and it's going to bounce outside the hole. That's just the way it goes. And the second part?

Q. Any major differences since you were last here?

TIGER WOODS: Any major differences from?

Q. From 2002 to now?

TIGER WOODS: With the greens? No. The greens are about the same. They're not quite up to speed yet. But they have gotten faster since Sunday and obviously expect them to get faster every day.

Q. You said before that the U.S. Open's the hardest tournament to win. Why is it the hardest tournament to win and maybe talk about what you enjoy about the challenge that the USGA setup presents each year.

TIGER WOODS: Well generally it's the highest rough we play all year, it's the narrowest fairways, the hardest greens, the trickiest pins. Other than that, yeah, it's pretty simple. (Laughter.)

As far as the setup you just have to be so patient. You just have to understand that it's a long haul. It's a long grind. It's different than most major championships. You're not going to make a lot of birdies and the whole idea is to not make any big numbers because it's hard to get them back.

Q. What's the state of your game now compared to when you showed up at Augusta?

TIGER WOODS: Way different. Way different. I've played so much more since then. I only had a few weeks to get ready for Augusta after being off for quite awhile. Now I've been playing tournament golf basically since April. So, yeah, it's just much different.

Q. You mentioned earlier about the important thing kids can do, which is remind themselves that it's a game and have fun. Are you having fun out there and did you have to remind yourself that golf should be fun too?

TIGER WOODS: Absolutely. Absolutely. I'm no different than anybody else. When you come out here and you play as a job for long enough and as a grind, it starts to become a little bit of work. And it's not. It's a game. And granted, it is what we do, it's how we make our living, but in the end it's still just a game. For me, I've always enjoyed practicing much more than I did playing. And that's certainly true now and I'm sure it always will be. I've always loved to practice. And for me to go out in the evenings and practice and replicate what my dad and I used to do, that's how the game is meant to be played. How much fun I used to have with my dad out there playing little games against each other and late in the evenings. And what a lot of the guys do with their sports psychologists is try and bring that same atmosphere and same attitude to the golf course when they play in tournaments.

Q. The images of you from say 2000 you were much thinner guy then, much thinner. When did it become part of your game plan to get bigger, to get stronger and how do you feel that has changed and affected your golf game?

TIGER WOODS: So I'm fat now? (Laughter.) Thanks. No. No, I've been working out ever since, what, high school? Just nothing ever happened. My dad always said I was going to be a late bloomer. His entire side of the family were very thin and even my dad when he was in spec ops he was still a pretty slight guy until he got up to almost his 30s and then he started putting on weight finally. And I was basically the same. I put on a pound or two basically every year and over ten years that's 20 pounds. And that's where I'm at now.

Q. How did it change your game?

TIGER WOODS: How did it change my game? I'm much more stable now than I used to be. I didn't have the stability in my legs. Certainly had a lot of speed, but I didn't have the stability. And in order to be consistent I think you have to have that platform and that's something I've gained now.

Q. I know you're a man of routines, with all the changes that have gone on in your life over the past few months, how much have you been able to kind of regain a sense of normalcy both on the course and off of it in the past few weeks since Augusta?

TIGER WOODS: That's certainly getting better. Getting back into the competitive atmosphere and preparation and that's something that I hadn't done for obviously a long period of time. And now I've done that for about -- since April and that part has certainly become much more normal now. And I'm starting to find out how much I can and can't push myself each and every day as far as practice. I overdid it, overcooked it right before Augusta, trying to get ready. And certainly I learned my lesson there.

Q. A follow-up question to Robert's question about burnout. What is your sense of how long your competitive candle will burn?

TIGER WOODS: I've probably got another week in me. (Laughter.) No, Jeff, I love it, I love playing. And I love practicing and once that starts going away, when I start not wanting to go get ready or I'm not ready to play, then I've got to get the hell out. Because then I'm not going to be in the right place to win golf tournaments. As I said earlier, I've always loved to practice. And I can't ever see that ever changing. But if it ever does, then you know me, being me, then I won't be here.

Q. Would you view 2000 as your most complete performance and can you ever envision yourself doing that to a field again?

TIGER WOODS: For the year or for the week? In 2000?

Q. For the week.

TIGER WOODS: For the week? Funny thing is I actually hit better at St. Andrews than did I here. But I putted better here. Yeah, that was a good week. It was a good weekend. I've had weeks where I've hit the ball like that before. But I've had large margins of victories, but to do it in the U.S. Open I think it's the only time and only place you can win by just enormous margins because if you play well, I think that when everyone is shooting the same scores and if you play a golf course 15, 20-under par, it's hard to win by 15 shots. But if you play a golf course when everyone's shooting even par and you play great, that's when you can see a blow out.

Q. You announced a couple of weeks ago you're coming back to Australia at the end of the year, your thoughts about that and what do you know about the Victoria Golf Club?

TIGER WOODS: Looking forward to it. I haven't played Victoria and I talked to Adam about it and I believe that's the golf course in which they had the wind out. So I'm looking forward to getting down there.

Q. Back to that year 2000, that you were talking about a second ago, when you won those series of majors, there was a lot of talk about an intimidation factor that the other Tour players felt when you were out there. Do you need to rekindle that in some way to feel dominant or has things changed where that doesn't matter as much having the intimidation factor?

TIGER WOODS: It's never -- it never was about that. It was about winning golf tournaments. Whether you win by 1 or 15 doesn't matter as long as I'm going home with the trophy. And that year I went home with the trophy nine times. So I would say that was a very successful year.

Q. The U.S. Open brings its own personality to every event that it comes to and it will also this year. But what about Pebble Beach makes it different from another U.S. Open, besides just the scenery?

TIGER WOODS: I think it's -- how it's been set up this year is much more different than what we played in 2000. How Mike sets it up is very different than how Tom set it up. And it's just, it's, you know, with the graduated rough system that they have implemented now, fairways are much wider, but then again they're a lot faster. And the holes are much longer. Where they could put length. And even though it's the shortest U.S. Open we play, but it's still -- it's getting awfully quick out there. Just in the last couple days. And if they don't put any water on these things come Sunday it's going to be very interesting.

Q. What are the challenges of being your own swing instructor assuming you're not consulting anybody else right now?

TIGER WOODS: You're always your own swing instructor. Any of these guys are. When you're out there playing, you're the one who has to fix it, no one else. And just having an understanding of your game, understanding of what the fixes are with each ball flight you know what is wrong with it and what the fixes are. And the main thing is going out there and trusting it. And then implementing a fix when you're out there and competing. That's where I think knowledge has a lot to do with it.

Q. All majors are special to you, I'm quite sure with your first, your 10th, that special one in 2006 at Hoy Lake, but how significant, how special would your next and 15th be to you?

TIGER WOODS: I think they're all special. I've won 14 of them now and each one has been different in its own right. Different circumstances, even though some have been on the same venues, but totally different circumstances. They're all so special and they're all so different and for me I cherish every one of those because I know how hard it was to complete in that event and being on top.

Q. What do you make of all the fuss over you not having a swing coach and have you sought out Federer who went for years without a coach or is it even analogous to with tennis and golf?

TIGER WOODS: Well there's a lot of guys out here who don't have swing coaches. Some guys bounce around from coach to coach week to week. Other guys don't ever use one. But for some reason people are very curious about my life.

Q. It seemed that at the Memorial it seemed to be a little bit more pin high with your approach shots. What are the little signs to you that things are coming along and progressing?

TIGER WOODS: That's one of them for sure. Obviously I'm controlling my ball flight, controlling the shape, the trajectory, if I can't control my traj I can't hit the ball the right distance and I'm starting to do that now and that's just from playing. The more I play, the more I get my feel back. And what I was saying to a lot of the guys who were at Memorial is that where I was there in the beginning of June is where a lot of the guys are in January and February, the amount of rounds they competed and played in. So I'm just starting to get my feel back. And I know I have to be patient with it. It's coming along.

MODERATOR: Tiger, thank you very much for coming in. We wish you well this week.

TIGER WOODS: You got it.

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