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Tiger Can Overtake Rory with Another Win at Bay Hill
With a win this week in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, defending champion Tiger Woods could become the top-ranked player in golf for the first time since October 2010.
Woods is back on familiar ground at Bay Hill in Orlando: He's a seven-time champion of the $6.2 million event, which starts Thursday.
Woods already has two victories this year, with one coming in the Farmer Insurance Open at Torrey Pines and in the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral, two places where he's also won seven times.
Woods is also familiar with being golf's top-ranked player; he spent 264 weeks from August 1999 to September 2004 and 281 weeks from June 2005 to October 2010 in that position.
Current No. 1 Rory McIlroy is not in the field this week, an absence that hasn't gone ignored by the famous host: "Frankly, I thought he was going to play, and I was as surprised as a lot of people when he decided he was not going to play," Palmer said. "I've had conversations, brief conversations with him some time ago, not recently, about his playing."
Woods is paired with England's Justin Rose and South African Ernie Els in the first round. The trio starts on the 10th tee at 8:00 a.m. ET. (For all the tee times, visit http://www.pgatour.com/tournaments/arnold-palmer-invitational-presented-by-mastercard/tee-times.html.)
On Wednesday, Woods met with reporters and talked about his chances this week and past successes at Bay Hill. He also responded to a question about his romantic link to famed skier Lindsey Vonn, a story that has spread across the tabloids this week. Here's what Tiger said during his Q&A.
MODERATOR: I'd like to welcome our defending champion of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard, Tiger Woods. Tiger, if you want to start off. You just got done playing nine holes on the Pro Am. Talk about the conditions and your thoughts coming back looking for your 8th win here at Bay Hill?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, I played three full holes before the rain came in. The golf course was very different. The greens were springy. They were dry, fast, and same with the fairways. That rain changed everything. We had balls - I hit a 4 iron to 6 that rolled two feet. I could barely keep a sand wedge on there on that little wedge shot I hit on 1 out of the rough. So it changed dramatically. So this golf course, I think, over the next couple of days is going to be playing a lot easier than it was prior to the rain. I'm really looking forward to getting out there. Been playing and looking forward to this week.
Q. You've always talked about the process and your swing and working with Sean and whatnot and how it's been a step by step thing. This is the first week in a while that you have a chance to actually regain the No. 1 ranking. Now that it is tangibly sitting there for you if you're able to win this week, can you talk about what it would mean to get back to that spot?
TIGER WOODS: Well, it's been a long process. I mean, I was hurt for a long time, and at the same time, I had to make swing changes that were drastically different than what I was doing before. It's taken some time. I fell to 50 plus there for a while. To gradually work my way back, that's something I'm proud of. I've got five wins in the last couple of years, and that's something, as I said, I'm very proud of. We're still getting better. Things are still becoming more efficient. These two wins I've had this year I've built myself some nice leads which means that I've played really well, and things are starting to come around and become more efficient day in and day out.
Q. Tiger Woods and Bay Hill, what's made it such a great match over the years as you go for number eight this week?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, it all started back when I was an amateur. I was a junior. This was the first Junior I ever won. I was 15, and I played here and won in extra holes. Won on the 19th hole. I think I beat Brad Zwetschke maybe. Something like that? Is that right? How about that memory, huh? Not that old yet. Yeah, it started then, and then, obviously, it was the first time I ever got a chance to meet Mr. Palmer. He was there handing out some medals to guys that have played in, I think, three juniors and there are only a handful of guys that had done that. He was giving those guys some medals, and I said I'd like to one day play in as many Juniors as that. It all started there.
I met Arnold that week. He was here, and I came here and played prior to even playing Bay Hill in the tournament. I lived right down the road at Isleworth, and came out and played in the shootout with him, and I was paired with him. Unfortunately, lost money to him, too (smiling). So Arnold Palmer's been great over the years to, not just myself, but to all the players out here. Any time you can come back and support what he's doing, it's very special to us. My two kids were born here at the Winnie Palmer, so this place and this tournament has a very special place in my heart.
Q. Snedeker made the point the other day that no matter what your results are, every time he sees you play, coming back from however long a layoff, you're hitting the ball square on the grooves, if you will. Would you agree with that? If so, how long has it been since you walked off the course and thought you really stunk that day, if you know what I mean?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, yeah. It hasn't been this year that I've felt that way. Probably middle part of last year I was more frustrated not with my ball striking, just my lack of scoring. Chipping, and putting and scoring, and not making the crucial save here and there. I was very, very frustrated at times. But I've always enjoyed taking time off and practicing and preparing. If you looked over my career when I've taken breaks and come back, I've come back better. That's just how I've always been.
I've been one of those guys that I practice really hard at home. I can work on different stuff. There's a certain method to how I do it, practicing and playing and playing more. When I come out here, I'm not just coming out here rusty. I've played quite a bit of holes right before I've come back - well, when I've been healthy enough to do it. That's been the biggest difference the last couple of years I've been able to do that now. Hence, the results have been so much better than they were a few years ago.
Q. How many rounds do you play a day?
TIGER WOODS: If we don't have any weather and I don't have any other family obligations with my kids, then I'll get out there and we've played as many as 54, 72 plus sometimes. We've got to change carts so we can keep them going fast. But we don't spend a lot of time. I think Rory's mentioned that before. We don't dilly dally around. We go out there and we play, and in for a little bit as well.
Q. So, Tiger, do you plan on reaching out to Rory for advice on how to be one half of a sport's power couple?
TIGER WOODS: Do I plan on it? No.
Q. In a more serious vein, why did you decide to come out with that and go public with the relationship now?
TIGER WOODS: Well, it's very simple. We're very happy where we're at, but also we wanted to limit the stalk a-razzi and all those sleazy websites that are out there following us. I've had situations where it's been very dangerous for my kids and the extent they'll go to. We basically devalued the first photos. Unfortunately, that's just the way it is in our society right now, and we felt like it was the best thing to do. I'm very happy about it.
Q. You've always been a story of the game, and you're 6 from Sam Snead's record. I wanted to get your perspective on the record, sort of your perspective on it, and secondly, the most impressive part about the record?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I think that for me I've been able to be as consistent as I have for the years I've been on Tour and to be able to have won that many times year in and year out, that's something that I'm very proud of. There have been a couple years where I didn't have the wins that I would like, but other years I've had some pretty good years.
Sam did it for, what? Almost 30 years, well into his early-50's, he won. So it speaks to being consistent and just being there. To pass Jack last year, and I'm not that far away from Sam, it hasn't been easy, but also then again, over the course of time, I've put myself there so many times that I'd hope I'd cash in a few times along the way. To have won triple digits around the world is something I'm pretty proud of in 17 years.
Q. Do you think it's a mark that can ever be broken or will ever be broken, whatever the number ends up being? Do you think anyone will approach that?
TIGER WOODS: It gets harder and harder with each generation. The talent pool gets better. Kids are getting more athletic. They're going earlier. They'll be turning pro earlier than even I did. When I first came out here at 20, that was like, whoa, you're coming out here pretty early. Now we get kids turning pro at 15, 16. It's different. They're going to have more years where they can win more tournaments, and it's not easy to do. As I said, the talent pool is getting deeper. The margin between even when I first came out, the guy leading the tournament and the cut line was always about 12, 13, 14 shots. Now sometimes it's 9 or 10 shots. There are 70 plus guys in the weekend within nine or ten shots, that gap's gotten smaller, and it's only going to get harder. So I'm sure somebody will come out here that's bigger, stronger, faster, and more athletic that will win a bunch of tournaments, but you've got to do it for a long period of time.
Q. The statement, "Tiger Woods is not completely back until he wins a major," is that fair?
TIGER WOODS: I think that's based on opinion. I feel like I'm headed in the right direction. I'm very pleased where I've come from. Like I said, 50 plus to where I'm at is no small task, and I'd like to get to 19 plus myself.
Q. Leading into that. Your and Jack's career arc are kind of intersecting here at a point with career starts and victories and everything. What does that tell you about your career clock and how much more time you might have to win these things?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, Jack did it until he was 46. I just feel like over the years he was the most consistent at putting himself in position to win major championships and win tournaments. If you look at his playing schedule, he didn't really play that many events. He played under 20 most of his career. He was prepared when he did play. I felt like that's something I've done.
You start realizing that it gets a little more difficult as you get older to balance. You have more things that are going on. I mean, he had, I think, five kids I think he had, trying to balance a family and golf course design. He owned MacGregor at the time, a bunch of different things going on. It becomes more things are pulling at you away from winning golf tournaments, and it's about getting the balance. That's just life. He was better at that than anybody else, and hopefully over the course of my career when all is said and done, I was pretty good at it as well.
Q. In your mind, is it ever good enough to be ranked as No. 2? What does it take for you to get back as No. 1?
TIGER WOODS: Well, to get back to No. 1, I've got to win this week. Not too complicated. As far as getting back to No. 1 and all that entails, it's not easy to get there in the first place. I don't think people really realize how hard it is to become No. 1 in the world. But then to then sustain it for a number of years is not easy as well. So it's about winning golf tournaments, and when you don't win, being in the Top 5 and continue racking up points.
Q. Do you think you can become as good as you once were?
TIGER WOODS: I don't want to become as good as I once was. No, I don't. I want to become better.
Q. Do you think you'll achieve that?
TIGER WOODS: We'll see.
Q. When your ranking dropped into the 50s as you alluded to, how did you view the probability that you would return to 1 at the low point, wherever you view it?
TIGER WOODS: I just needed to get healthy. Once I got healthy and I was able to practice properly, I felt like then I could implement the swing changes that Sean wanted me to put in there and I would get back there. But I needed to get healthy enough where I could practice. I just happened - it happened to be a perfect storm where I was making a swing change, and I was hurt, and I couldn't devote any time to it. And the philosophies are so different that I needed time, and I didn't have the ability to practice and spend the hours I needed to my game. Once I was able to do that, slowly but surely, I started to gain momentum, and here we are.
Q. In the midst of all of that, Tiger, what doubt did you have?
TIGER WOODS: I didn't have the doubt that I think people might have expected. I just felt that I needed to get healthy enough where things just didn't hurt. I've always been pretty good in my career when I could practice, and I think my record reflects that. But I just wasn't able to do that. Now I've been able to do that for the last couple of years, and you can see the results now.
Q. Something a little off topic, but you did mention your Junior Amateur win here, and you had a tremendous amateur career. It's a Walker Cup year. Wondering what the Walker Cup fit into the things that you were able to do as an amateur?
TIGER WOODS: I played in one Walker Cup only, and we played I think at Royal Porthcawl, and we lost. It wasn't a whole lot of fun to lose there. We had a great team, too. We had a bunch of guys from Stanford and OK State that were on the team, and we had some older guys that were on there. Who was on there? Tim Jackson, Allen Doyle, John Harris, we had a pretty stout lineup. Unfortunately, we didn't get it done. I wish I would have been able to win a Walker Cup. I've only won one Ryder Cup. The year that they won, I was out. I watched it from the couch. Yeah, so, the Walker Cup was a bunch of fun. We had a great mix of guys. Being a Walker Cup year, I hope they do it.
Q. Going back to No. 1 for a minute. I'm not suggesting that you ever thought it was easy. But if you take that stretch from those two five year stretches, you probably never thought about it. When you got out of the Top 10 for a good chunk there, did that make you appreciate more how hard it was than when you were in the middle of winning a ton and staying there?
TIGER WOODS: No, no. I've always known how hard it is to spend the time out there, to work, to lift all the weights and do all the training and spend the time and devotion that it takes to get there. It's not easy. One thing I did take for granted over the time was the ability to be able to play a full schedule. There were times when it was pretty easy. Then when I was out, it was frustrating. I think '08 was probably the hardest year because it was the first time I've missed major championships. That stung quite a bit. To be on the couch and knowing that I had just won an Open, and I can't play in the other two major championships, that was frustrating.
Unfortunately, I've missed some more as well after that. That's not a lot of fun for me. But in order to do that, you've got to be healthy. I think that's one record in history that will never be broken is Jack's major streak of just playing events. Forget just playing - if you play in let's say 20 or 30 majors, you've had a pretty darn good career. What did he play in? 146. That's crazy, isn't it? Playing 146 Tour events is pretty good.
Q. You mentioned the Ryder Cup a few minutes ago. I wonder what your reaction is to Tom Watson's decision to change the captain's picks from 4 to 3?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, I don't know what that was about. I just heard about it on the golf course today. I think it went from 4 to 3. I didn't hear the reasoning why he did it, I just heard it went from 4 to 3.
Q. Given the chance for more players to qualify automatically.
TIGER WOODS: Well, one more player (laughing).
Q. As a follow up, you did mention that going to Gleneagles next year. And playing a course which is a regular Tour event on the European Tour that the U.S. Team faces an uphill battle. Do you support that?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I guess over the years they've chosen sites they've played on a regular basis, Valderrama, Belfry, K Club, Celtic Manor, and now Gleneagles. All the years that I've been part of the teams, those are Tour events that they've played. But I think that's also part of the deal of getting the Ryder Cup as well. They have to have a Tour event there for X number of years. We'll see. We'll see what that entails, and we'll have our practice time. Hopefully the weather will behave so that we can get practice time in there. Obviously, a lot of you guys were there in Wales when we weren't able to practice and we weren't able to see the golf course. So, hopefully, we can get that in.
Q. Arnie was in here a little while ago, and he sounded a little disillusioned about the fact that Rory wasn't playing and he thought he was going to play here. I'm not asking you to criticize Rory in any way because you make your own schedules. But it seems like a lot of the players come here over the years, you as a youngster, and kind of pay homage to Arnie. Do you see that as a generational thing at all? Are you a little surprised that Rory has not been here before and is not here?
TIGER WOODS: Well, he played a limited schedule to begin with last year. I think last year was his first year as a member of the Tour, and this is only his second year. There is a big difference this year. We have two weeks before the Masters. That has a little bit to do with it, I think. Some of the guys are taking this week off and playing two in a row in Texas to get ready. Some guys are playing one. It's a different schedule than it has been in the past.
Q. Next week your video game '14 comes out. You're here at Arnold Palmer's event. He's on the cover with you. What is it like? He shares the cover, and he's in the video game and I'm sure you've seen what his likeness looks like, because going back as a young man, it's pretty cool.
TIGER WOODS: It was actually more cool to actually do the commercial shoot with him. That was pretty neat to see Arnold Palmer move like that. You'll see it in the commercial. He did all the stunts himself. All of them.
Q. What's it like being involved in the video game?
TIGER WOODS: Having been involved in a video game is fantastic. This is a different generation. We've had the younger guys and Rory and Rickie on there, and now to have the Legends part of the game, that's what it's all about. It's different to have the guys who have grown up with video games. My generation, that's all we did. We were gamers from a very early age. I don't know if Arnold Palmer's ever played, but to have him part of the game and understand that this is now the next generation and for him to be part of this game has been so much fun. As I said, the stunt scenes were all him.
Q. Since you last won the Masters, other than last year, you were pretty much right there every Sunday. Just wondering how frustrating has that been, I guess those six years of the last seven? Do you find that major to be the most frustrating of all of them in that period for you, especially given all the success you've had there previously?
TIGER WOODS: It's been one of those things where I've been close there so many times on that back nine on Sunday, and I just haven't won. I've been in the mix. Been on the periphery and played myself into the mix. I've been right there with just a few holes to go, and it just hasn't happened. Hopefully this year it will be a different story, and I'll put myself there and hopefully have Bubba put the jacket on.
Q. I was just wondering, was '06 maybe the toughest? It seemed like that was the one you wanted the most because your dad and you were in that one. I don't know if that was the best chance you had to win, but it seemed like maybe that was the one you were most frustrated by.
TIGER WOODS: That one hurt the most of any tournament that I have failed to win. I've lost tournaments before, and I've been through some tough defeats over the years, but nothing like that because I knew my dad would never live to see another major championship.
At the time, going into that final round and on the back nine, as I admitted to you guys, I pressed and I tried to make putts that instead of just allowing it to happen, I've tried to force it. I know he was at home watching, and just really wanted to have him be a part of one last major championship victory. And I didn't get it done. It hurt quite a bit. Obviously, I didn't do very good at Winged Foot that year, but I won the British Open, and it's one of the reasons why I bawled like a little baby is that he was never going to be there again. But that Masters hurt. There's never been another defeat that's felt like that.
Q. Do you put any stock in the whole Tiger proofing thing? That whole notion in the early 2000s when they toughened the course. Has it been harder for you to win because of what they've done?
TIGER WOODS: Well, obviously, I haven't won, but I've been in the mix. It's still advantageous to hit the ball long there and hit the ball high. You look at most of the winners have all been able to move it out there. Whether it's Phil, or Bubba, Angel, you go around the list, not too many guys are of a shorter version of Trevor or Weirsy. Most of the guys can hit the ball up in the air and they can move it. You still have to play the par 5s well, and it still helps to be long into those par 5s. And there are certain weeks and certain times when guys have wedged it unbelievably well, and have been successful and been short. Zach being one of them. Never went for the par 5s ever, all 16 of them. So I think that's rare. But you look at most of the guys in the Top 10 with a chance to win on Sunday, they're all long hitters.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.
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