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Tiger Has Sights Set on Masters


Three wins last year and already three more victories in this young 2013 season have proven that Tiger Woods' once-vaunted game has returned. Indeed, he's back making golf history.

With the seventh win of his career in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in late January, and his eighth title in the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Monday, Woods continues to pad some of his many all-time marks in golf.

There are only two players who've won seven wins or more in the same tournament, and Woods has done that four times. In addition to his eight API titles - which ties Sam Snead (Greater Greensboro Open) for the all-time mark for the most wins in the same event, he's won the Farmers Insurance Open, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and WGC-Cadillac Champion seven times.

Despite personal upheaval and a divorce, injuries and a totally retooled golf swing, Woods has risen to the top of the world golf rankings - supplanting Rory McIlroy after his latest win at Bay Hill, as well as putting himself in excellent position for his 11th PGA Tour Player of the Year award, another all-time record.

Now it's time for Woods to get his first major since the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. His first chance of the year will take place at the Masters in two weeks. If he can win his fifth green jacket in Augusta National's Butler Cabin, Woods will be only one Masters' victory from Jack Nicklaus record total of six and just three Grand Slam titles from the Golden Bear's all-time mark of 18.

On Monday afternoon, after sewing up a two-stroke victory in the storm-delayed Arnold Palmer Invitational, Woods sat down with reporters and discussed his eighth title in the API, the state of his game and his prospects heading into the Masters. Here's what he had to say during the following Q&A.

MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome the 2013 Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard champion, Tiger Woods. Tiger, you win this tournament for the 8th time, a PGA Tour record time eighth time. If we could just get what's going through your head right now?

TIGER WOODS: It feels good right now. I'm just kind of scrolling through my phone and all the people who have supported me and all the texts saying thank you. I've tried to text back thank you's as fast as I possibly can, but it's been incredible to have all the support, and you know, all the hard work has paid off to get me to this point, and it feels good to have won this event. This event means so much to me over the years. I lived here. This is my first house I ever owned, and it was here in Orlando, and both my kids were born here. And it has it is a very special place.

MODERATOR: A host of players there at certain times today giving you a challenge. Just comment on the final round, if you can.

TIGER WOODS: Yeah, I had a nice little cushion there. Keegan made a little bit of a run early, and then it came down to Rickie, myself, and Rosie. And Rickie had a putt there at 15 to squeeze down to 1 if I missed, and he missed. Then I missed, so it kept it at 2. But going into 16, it was a pretty big swing, because Rosie had just made birdie ahead of us to get to 11, and that was there in the bunker. Rickie was in the middle of the fairway. He made a mistake there and put it in the water. My lie was perfect. Because of the rain, the sand was firm enough where I didn't have to worry about footing and the lie was very clean. I could play either a draw or fade, didn't really matter. I decided to hit a nice little 8 iron out of there and turn it with the wind and end up on the green.

Q. Tiger, you've always said that each win means something. It's individual. This one maybe you'll remember because you get back to No. 1. And I know that you've been there, obviously, for a long time. But if you go back to 2011 with your leg up in a sling, I mean, could you imagine being back here at that point in your career?

TIGER WOODS: Well, I had to look at it. If I get healthy, I know I can play this game at a high level. I know I can be where I'm contending in every event, contending in major championships and being consistent day in and day out, if I got healthy. That was the first step in the process. Once I got there, then my game turned. I've won six times on the Tour in the last couple years, so that's not bad.

Q. What does this portend for Augusta?

TIGER WOODS: Well, more media interviews.

Q. Game wise, how does this set you up?

TIGER WOODS: Game wise, I have a couple weeks off, that's going to be nice. Had to gear up four or five weeks, even though I lost in Match Play for the first round, but still having to gear up for it. It will be nice to shut down for a few days, well, after tomorrow. Then I'll shut it down for a few days and then start gearing up, and working on the shots I need for Augusta.

Q. A quick follow up on Augusta. There is a 14 year old from China who will be playing who said he started playing golf because of you. It's one thing to have Americans emulate you, but when someone across the world does that, could you have ever imagined that?

TIGER WOODS: It's frightening to think that I was born after I won my first Masters (laughing). I mean, that's just frightening. It's exciting that I've inspired kids to play and not just here in the States, but obviously in China and around the world. The game has become global. There are more countries represented on the PGA Tour than ever before, and that's not going to change. It's only going to increase, and we're going to have a lot of players from countries that traditionally haven't been into golf that are going to start to play this game at a high level. Now with the Olympics being involved, government funding is going to be involved trying to get these kids to that type of level, and that's only going to make it better for the game of golf.

Q. There will be a lot of attention now about the Masters, the majors. What do you make of the notion that last year you wanted it too much or you tried too hard? Is that possible? Do you look back on that - could that have been a factor in some of your struggles?

TIGER WOODS: I don't know. I felt like maybe my game wasn't quite consistent enough to be there at that point. I've gotten so much better since those events, and I've cleaned up a lot of different things in my game, and I'm very pleased with where it's come along. I've turned some of the weaknesses that I had last year into strengths. I'm really excited about the rest of this year. As I said, the very beginning of the year I was excited because of how the end of last year turned. My short game game wise came around, I thought my swing was getting better, my short irons got better, Lo and behold, I won a few tournaments this year.

Q. In your first two wins, nobody really made a run at you on Sunday. So how big was it to answer Rickie's putt on 12 when he was trying to put that kind of pressure on you?

TIGER WOODS: It ended up being a nice putt to make, but I certainly wasn't trying to make it. I was just trying to make sure I didn't run it past that hole. I mean, it was into the grain early and then straight down grain or running away. I've actually hit that putt when it's been dry I've putted off the green there. So that was in the back of my mind, but even though these greens are so much slower because of the rain, and the wind was coming out of the north, it was going to hold the putt up a little bit. So Rickie, I thought, hit his putt way too hard, initially, but it slowed up pretty good. It was a putt I knew I didn't have to fear. I didn't have to respect it that much because it wasn't going to zip off if I missed it on the low side, and I peered it, and it ended up going in.

Q. I don't think, Tiger, unless I'm missing something, you haven't won back to back starts probably since the Buick firestone time in '09. What is the significance of that to come off a win at Doral, be home, and come right back and not miss much of a beat?

TIGER WOODS: I didn't know that.

Q. You won today.

TIGER WOODS: I did? I won today?

Q. Yeah.

TIGER WOODS: I think it shows that my game's consistent. It's at a high level, and I think you're not going to play well each and every day. I know that, we all know that. But it's getting the little things out of each round. To win back to back weeks or like I've won I think six times in a row before. You're not going to play well each and every day. And you're not going to play well every week. But you've got to grind it out and get those rounds in, and that is something that I've done. I've turned rounds that should be 1 or 2 over to under par rounds and that's allowed me to go ahead and win golf tournaments.

Q. Tiger, you've been talking to us a lot about the process and the results have beared out everything you've said about how you worked more on the short game and that's gotten better, and the putting. Can you talk a little bit about we've all debated about whether it means whether you're back or not?

TIGER WOODS: Really, you have?

Q. Yes.

TIGER WOODS: Oh.

Q. Where in the process is winning the next major for you?

TIGER WOODS: Well, it's the next event I play.

Q. Just in terms of that, that rise.

TIGER WOODS: Well, it's the next event I play.

Q. How close are you to where you want to be?

TIGER WOODS: I'm getting there. I'm getting there. I'm very pleased that some of the shots that I struggled with last year are now strengths. You know, one of the things that we need to continue to work on is getting it more refined. Because my good ones are really good. Just making sure the bad ones aren't that bad, whether it's a driver, 3 wood, long iron, wedge, whatever it is, that I'm missing the ball in the correct spots. That's getting way better. Still continue to improve and clean up my short game.

Q. When is the last time you felt this good heading to Augusta, about your game and everything else?

TIGER WOODS: It's been a few years.

Q. Excluding the win this is year, because you've obviously played well in all of them, but when is the last time you hit the ball as well as you are hitting it right now?

TIGER WOODS: You mean on a consistent basis?

Q. Yeah.

TIGER WOODS: Probably - well, I think my best ball striking tournament was the last couple years was probably Torrey this year. Just how I hit the golf ball, not each and every day, but over a period of time it's been years since I've hit the ball this consistently day in and day out: The flushness, the trajectory, the spin control, hitting my numbers. Especially when it's howling like, this you have to hit the ball with the correct trajectory or it's just going to get slammed. A lot of time if I hit the ball in correct spots or hit the ball on my number, whether that was leaving it 8 yards short or right or left of the hole, I was able to hit my ball into those zones, and that felt good.

Q. Going back to the off season, what was sort of the biggest fix or improvement you think you made in your game?

TIGER WOODS: Just continue working on the short game. Continue working on that, continue getting my spins under control and being able to spin the ball right or spin the ball to the left. There were a few shots out there that I was excited about that I played. I hit a little shot on 14 today. It was up the hill, but I put a little bit of a draw spin on that little shot to hold it against the hill to try to kill it against that grain. To pull off a shot like that when I really need it, it feels pretty sweet.

Q. What is your definition of short game?

TIGER WOODS: I don't know, 30, 40 yards and in.

Q. Is that what you're talking about?

TIGER WOODS: Yeah.

Q. This tournament a little more special for you because it is hosted by Mr. Palmer?

TIGER WOODS: Absolutely. Absolutely. There are certain events that are more special when you have Arnold Palmer on the 18th green or you have Jack at the Memorial. Used to have Mr. Nelson there in Dallas. It's special to be able to walk off the 18th green and see these guys there. They're living legends of the game. What they've meant to the game of golf and for us to come back here and play over the years and having it here. Last year was scary for all of us. He wasn't feeling well and had to be rushed to the hospital, so I gave him some pretty good needling about that this year.

Q. What are your emotions like when you know you're walking up that hill and Mr. Palmer's there?

TIGER WOODS: It's a good feeling when I've won the tournament.

Q. Tiger, what relevance do we attach to the fact that you get back to number 1 in the same week as you change your Facebook status?

TIGER WOODS: You're reading way too much into this.

Q. Lots of people will.

TIGER WOODS: Shocker.

Q. I was curious how many text messages have you received from the time you walked in here? Are there any special ones?

TIGER WOODS: Over 30 so far when I just got off the green.

Q. Any special ones you can share with us?

TIGER WOODS: Just my staff, my friends and my family. A lot of them are giving me some pretty good needling today, which I can't really share here.

Q. I was going to ask you have you heard from the guy (Indiscernible)?

TIGER WOODS: Not yet. It hasn't been on my phone yet.

Q. One of the things about coming back, as much as hitting the ball well. Your putting seems to be now back to where it was maybe even ten years ago. That's got to make you feel good about Augusta, because I think as you conceded many times, the putter has let you down there over the last six, seven years where you've had a chance. Can you talk a little bit about that and that confidence going into Augusta?

TIGER WOODS: Yeah, the three events that I've won, I've putted well. Certainly helped me out there at Doral and got me into position where I felt like I was now putting like I did at Torrey. And I've basically carried that on in the last couple of weeks that I've played, and that feels good, especially when it's blowing like this, the two tournaments I've played. To be that steady and hit the ball that solidly, that flush into the grain where the wind is blowing and you can't miss hitting on Bermuda greens and get away with it. You've got to hit it pure, and I've been able to do that, and I've made my share of putts. Especially some really key putts.

Like today at 11 was a key putt. I got hammered by that wind on the first putt. It knocked me off balance, and I hit it off the heel and it didn't even get there. The second putt the wind was blowing me all over the place, and I just stayed as steady as I could and I flushed that putt. That was a pure putt. Those are the putts that I need to make. Those are the putt that's I've made in the three wins I've had this year.

Q. What about in terms of Augusta, is this as confident as you've felt with the putter for a long time?

TIGER WOODS: Yeah, it is. But now I need to get out there and get used to putting on bent again. That's going to be a little bit different. There are a couple new greens that we need to chart and get accustomed to, and take a look at that and see what the new hole placements will be. And obviously, that will shift and change.

Q. There were a couple times last year when you were grouped with Rickie, and he told us that he played with you at home a few times and he just didn't quite see you bringing it to the course like when you guys played at home. I'm just curious how long that process was and if that was frustrating for you for a period there or if you just had a harder time bringing it out here?

TIGER WOODS: I've been through that with my changes in my game over the years. You've got to be able to do it at home first. That's where it all starts and do it consistently. Then it feeds into coming out here and being able to do it Thursday, Friday, and maybe a Saturday afternoon, and then ultimately down the stretch on Sunday of a tournament. Then you've got to do it in a major championship. So that process has been evolving, and you can see the stepping stones. You can see it. Throughout my career when I've changed my game and have made changes, you can see the progress, the incremental progress I've made. Then eventually I get to a point where I start winning golf tournaments.

Q. You talked about how rewarding it is to have worked so hard and come back. You've always worked hard. Is there anything particularly rewarding about this stretch where you came back from injury after having been gone for a while from the very top? How hard did you work compared to your previous hard work, and how rewarding is this particular stretch?

TIGER WOODS: It was a lot easier to work on the game and it do all that make all those changes when I was younger. Having family responsibilities and golf is not the number one priority in my life. It changes things. Trying to find time to do that and time management skills, all of that is tested. So I had to work differently than I have in the past. I can't go out there and work hours on end and get it done. It was going to have to be done in periods of short bursts. So it is different. But still, I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. My two little ones are the most important things in my life.

Q. Tiger, you had a couple exchanges with Arnold Palmer today. I was just wondering. You had him cracking up on the 18th green with the trophy ceremony, if you could share what you said. And one quick second one, do you crash on someone's couch this week since you sold your house in Isleworth? Where do you stay?

TIGER WOODS: No, I actually still have the villa there. But as far as I told Arnold Palmer, boy, I can't say it here, but it was funny, really funny, actually. Really funny.

Q. At what point were you able to, I guess last year, what point were you able to go to the range after rounds at what point in your recovery?

TIGER WOODS: I think Memorial was the first time.

Q. Last year?

TIGER WOODS: Yeah.

Q. At your age, as long as you've been on Tour and as much as you've won, do you ever run the risk of pouring so much attention into the four biggies? Not that you don't care about the other tournaments, but your intensity level or your concentration, and thought process differs from where you were when you were 24, 25?

TIGER WOODS: Uh huh, it's still the same. I enjoy competing. I enjoy winning golf tournaments and especially major championships. Those are the best to have at one point in my career to have all four of them on my coffee table in a row was a pretty neat feeling.

MODERATOR: Tiger Woods, congratulations.

TIGER WOODS: Thank you, guys.

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