Tiger Ready to Start New Season


Tiger Woods will be part of what is the unquestioned marquee group in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. The No. 2-ranked player in the world will be playing alongside No. 1 Rory McIlroy and Germany's Martin Kaymer, who's won the tournament three of the past five years.

The trio will be teeing off the 10th hole at Abu Dhabi Golf Club at 7:40 a.m. Some reports note that Woods, a 14-time major winner, is earning a $2.5 million appearance fee to come to the Middle East tournament while double-major champion McIlroy $1.5 million.

The sound technicians who follow professional golfers during tournaments will probably be on high alert to capture the exchanges between Woods and McIlroy. After all, Woods has been the longtime headliner of sports-equipment giant Nike, and McIlroy just signed a whopping $250 million, 10-year deal with the swoosh company.

The two just released their first joint television ad. In the spot called "No Cup is Safe," the two try to outdo each other by smacking balls into drinking glasses and soup bowls, smashing windows if necessary. They trade playful jabs ("Dude, is that your real hair?" asks Tiger) and competitive camaraderie.

It's uncertain whether that playfulness will be seen during competition, but it appears Woods seems to really have taken to the mop-haired, 23-year-old McIlroy, whose buoyant spirit, openness and sportsmanship have broad appeal in the sports world.

On Tuesday afternoon, Woods met with reporters and discussed his relationship with McIlroy. He also talked about getting his game to a place where he can compete regularly with the young Ulsterman, who's taken golf by storm. Here's what Woods had to tell the media on the eve of the Abu Dhabi tournament.

MODERATOR: Tiger, welcome, as always, to Abu Dhabi and the European Tour. It's always a pleasure to have you playing with us. Last year, nearly made it. Give us your thoughts on coming back this year and having another stab at this title.

TIGER WOODS: Yeah, excited to be back. Went out there and played nine today, and golf course is playing tough. A little bit more full than it was last year, and with this wind, I don't think it's forecasted for the entire week, but if it does blow like this, it will be one hell of a test. There's a lot more grass than what we played on last year. So the course superintendent has done a great job of getting this thing in perfect, prime condition for this week, and we've just got an incredible field this week and it will be a lot of fun.

MODERATOR: Your own form, how did it feel this morning?

TIGER WOODS: It felt good. It felt good to be back out there again. I took a little time off, got way from it a little bit and started gearing up for this week. It feels good to be back out there, and in more of a competitive mode than going out there and obviously playing at home a lot of holes.

Q. We all saw the glitz and glamour that accompanied Rory's arrival into the Nike fold last night. Just wondered, for you does that putt a little extra edge, get the competitive juices going that much more?

TIGER WOODS: No, no, no, definitely not. You know, he's obviously - he's had a tremendous year, won a Major Championship, on top of that, came to our Nike family. So it's been a big switch for him. I believe he's just moved down to West Palm, as well. So a lot of things are certainly changing in his life, and I think he wants - well, I've kind of been there and understand it, and it's nice when that's all said and done to get out there and compete and play. I'm sure that he's looking forward to Thursday, just like I think everyone else in this field.

Q. The advert that you filmed together suggested that there was a natural chemistry between you, as well; is that something that's developed over the last couple of years?

TIGER WOODS: It started here last year. I played the front nine with him last year on a Tuesday, and I think we were paired together first three days. So our relationship certainly has grown since then but it started here and I believe in a playoff, we played, too, as well. We were right up there in the rankings, so we seemed to be getting paired together every week for a stretch there. Yeah, we've certainly hit it off, and our relationship has grown and our friendship's gotten better.

Q. Once more, great video, it was a pleasure to watch. Pretty much the same point, but now Rory being on the same team, are you guys going to practice more together? Are you going to play together because he's living in Florida now?

TIGER WOODS: Yeah, I don't know if he's fully in yet, into his house there but he does play out there at The Bear's Club, and I play up at Medalist quite a bit. Maybe he'll come up or I'll go down there; either way, I think that for him being down there, being able to basically practice all year round is certainly going to be a benefit to him. Because we are able to practice 12 months a year, and have, you know, some really good weather. People forget - don't forget, but they don't really realize how much it blows right there on the coast, and it's always windy. I guess that will help. But I think having him down there, I'm sure we'll have a few dinners together and certainly hang out a bit more.

Q. Just wondered if you could look ahead and handicap the majors and the venues, and how they shape up for you, the state of your game, that type thing, forward looking?

TIGER WOODS: Well, three of the four I really like. The other one I have never played. Never been to Merion. I'm certainly going to have to check it out this year prior to the Open and see how they are going to set it up. From what I hear, I don't think they are going to have the intermediate cut. I think they are just going to have rough and fairway, that's it. I don't know how that's going to look, but certainly the golf course is, from what I hear, not very long, modern standards. But I have to get there and take a look. Obviously I love Augusta. Muirfield is a wonderful test; just happened to catch a bad day in 2002 on Saturday. Oak Hill is one of the more difficult golf courses. It's straight out in front of you; it's just very, very difficult. They had the senior - I think a Senior PGA or Senior Open there not too long ago. I know it felt brutal, just like it was when we played the PGA there, as well.

Q. You've changed clubs in your time. Can you just talk about the challenges, the adjustments, particularly in the early weeks, the early events?

TIGER WOODS: You know, I certainly have changed equipment over the years, but I've done it gradually. I've never made a big wholesale change over the course of my career. I've gradually implemented certain pieces of the 14 clubs. Some guys have made wholesale changes when they change sponsors. I've never done that. And I still believe that it's not going to be in the bag unless it's better than what I'm using, so that's always been my philosophy. And when it is better than what I've been using, it's in the bag straightaway.

Q. When I talked to Rory yesterday, he said it's too early to call the competition between you guys a rivalry because you really haven't been going head to head down the stretch; would you agree and if so, why?

TIGER WOODS: I absolutely agree with that. It would be very similar to saying that I had a rivalry with Phil two years into my career. That wasn't the case. It takes time. Over the course of my career, I've gone head to head against I think Ernie and Vijay the most over the course of my career. That's happened, what over 17 years, something like, that 16, 17 years that we've been going at it like that. But it takes time. And certainly I think that we have done it once at Honda, BMW a little bit this year, but you know, we haven't really had the amount of matches that are head to head duels that I've had with Phil and Vijay and Ernie. But then again, it's only been a few years, so let's just give it time and see how it pans out.

Q. Can you talk about what you've done to get ready for the season the last couple of weeks?

TIGER WOODS: I just shut it down and got a way from golf for a couple weeks. Just put the clubs away and never looked at them. It was nice to shut it down like that, and when I came back and started, just like I do every year, I start from the green back. Basically that's how I was raised, started from when I was a little boy from putting to chipping to pitching to irons to driver, so that's what I did and worked on basically trying to refine what I was doing towards the end of last year. I thought my ball striking was good and my short game finally came around towards the end of last year. That was something I was excited about. Basically Sean and I didn't reinvent a new swing. We were basically out there refining what we have been working on for the past two years, just going out and hitting balls and getting the reps in and then started playing quite a bit towards the end.

Q. Given where you were 18 months ago and the lead Rory currently has, how big an achievement would it be to get back to No. 1?

TIGER WOODS: Well, I would like to just win golf tournaments. The rankings take care of themselves by winning golf tournaments. I was at one point, what was I, outside the Top 50 or whatever it was, but I won three times last year and lo and behold, look where I'm at. It's about winning golf tournaments and being consistent. I think that over the course of my career, I've done a pretty good job of that, and would certainly like to continue doing that.

Q. Last month, Jack Nicklaus said he thought Rory's challenge would be good for you, that he's come along the way that he has, not necessarily that you need the motivation but having another young guy along, does it give you a boost, him emerging as he has?

TIGER WOODS: Well, Bob, I think it's a generational thing now. The guys that I played a lot, like I was mentioning earlier, the main guys over the course of the early part of my career, Goose, Vijay, Ernie, Phil, David, are all in their 40s now, and some of the other guys that I - even Jim. So now you've got kids in their 20s, it just means I've been around a little bit longer. Guys are certainly hitting the ball further. You can see how athletic Rory is, he's not exactly 6 3 or 6 4 like some of the other bombers out here, but he certainly can move it. That's the nature of the game now, you have to just be able to move it out there and take advantage of it. It's just neat to see.

Q. From the time that you've been hanging out with Rory, what advice have you offered to him and what lessons have you learnt from him?

TIGER WOODS: You know, we haven't really talked in that way as far as advice or anything like that. We've just had a good time. Certainly give each other the needle quite a bit. That's always fun. And that's about it, and as far as advice or anything like, that no. He's got a great head on his shoulders and really understands, so if he ever needs any advice, then certainly he's more than - he knows I'm open to it. I think our friendship certainly is growing and it's been fun.

Q. The European Team captain could well be announced tonight, and Rory has said quite vocally that he thinks captains should only get one chance. Having endorsed Tom Watson from an American point of view, are those comments you disagree with?

TIGER WOODS: Well, Tony Jacklin did all right, didn't he? And Bernard Gallacher? I don't know, think they were okay? Okay, well, they had them more than once. I don't know what The European Tour matrix is. We certainly have gone outside of our matrix model that we've used over the years with Tom. It's usually guys in their 40s, or even early 50s or who have won a major championship and who are basically on the back end of their career. The European model has been different over the years, and depends what the committee wants to do.

Q. Is what is it that most strikes about Rory's game?

TIGER WOODS: Well, I think that if you look at the way he hits it, he drives the ball beautifully, and beautiful iron player and when he's got that putter rolling, he makes a lot of putts. Granted, what 20 something year old doesn't make a lot of putts. So he's certainly proven that he can make big putts. He's won a couple major championships by large margins, so he has all the tools, and he's only going to refine them. He's only going to get better at it, and it will be good to see.

Q. We've seen Rory's profile increase dramatically in recent months. Does that present different challenges for him going into this season, do you feel?

TIGER WOODS: What do you mean?

Q. Just well his profile, he's in that superstar bracket with yourself and a couple of others; the attention surrounding him does that present a different challenge?

TIGER WOODS: I think he has to go with time management skills. I think that's something he's already learned. This summer, or this past summer, he had a little bit of a spell there where he didn't play well. Went back to focusing and practicing, and lo and behold, he had a huge end of the summer. That's just something that we've all had to go through, we've all learned. It's tough sometimes, it really is. When you have success, there are more responsibilities that are at a tournament site and more distractions that are at a tournament site that are taking you away from what you like to do, which is compete and play. That's something that certainly he has learned and he's figured out and I think that was a big adjustment that he made this past summer, and consequently, he had a huge end of the year. I think that was a good sign.

Q. Did he talk to you about that?

TIGER WOODS: A little bit, a little bit. I went through it - I went through it a little bit earlier than he did. Mine was '97. I turned pro in '96. I played the end of the summer, and then I had never played that much competitive golf and by the time I had gotten to July, I was fried already. In college, we don't play that much golf. Amateur golf we don't play that much, but I was playing a lot, and for a whole year, which we don't normally do. So that to me was - I won four times through July and then didn't win again. A lot of it, just because I was just fried and reworked my schedule and applied it in '98, did all right, but then it kicked in in '99.

Q. With everything that's happened in the past few years with injuries and whatnot and with a good 12 months under your belt and having a bit of a freshen up over the break, do you feel like your game is in as good of shape has it has been for the past few years and do you feel like you can have a real crack at 2013?

TIGER WOODS: Absolutely. Last year I had one little blip at Doral with my Achilles, but other than that, it was a good year physically. I was excited about being able to play a full schedule. I had not played a full schedule in a very long time, I think 2006, 2007, somewhere in there. So for me it was a big year in that regard; that I was able to play an entire year. Consequently, I won a few times, and really excited about going into this year. This off season was - even though it was brief, it was only six weeks, but it was nice to train and to get speed and get stronger to get the endurance up, all the different levels that I know I can get to and I have been at, which it was nice to get there again.

Q. Just back to that chemistry between you and Rory, we have always had this perception of you as a guy who leaves nothing to chance, and we have seen Rory very laid back, almost missed his Ryder Cup time, wondering if you've been in that similar position and does - inaudible is that what helps your friendship?

TIGER WOODS: You know, I'd be psychoanalyzing that a little bit, but -

Q. Go ahead.

TIGER WOODS: I like Rory as a person. He's a really nice kid. I think all of you guys are aware of that. As far as being in a position like that, that he experienced at the Ryder Cup, I missed a tee time in a junior event, and I called in for my tee time, it was a two day event and I called it in and I said, "Woods." And they gave me my tee time. Evidently, there was another Woods playing, as well. Actually it was Steve Woods. He played at San Jose State, but he was in the event, as well, and they gave me his time. So I missed my tee time. I showed up at his time, and that was the only time I have ever been in a situation like, that and I vowed it would never happen again, because that was a pretty empty feeling knowing that all I had to do was give a little bit more detail, my first name, and all I had to do was - it cost me a chance of winning a golf tournament, and that's I pretty empty feeling.

Q. You alluded that '98, when you revamped the swing and all, I'm thinking that might be the last time you sort of entered a season as the perceived underdog as Rory has kind of climbed the ladder. Has that changed any for you motivationally or anything?

TIGER WOODS: You know, it doesn't. The whole idea is to get better, and that's what I'm trying to do each and every year is get better. If I get better, then I'm going to win golf tournaments. And I just need to continue focusing on what I can do. I can't control what any other player does out here. I can't influence what they do. All I can do is worry about my own game and getting more efficient at what I do. That's what I've tried to do over the years, and it's been successful for me, and I see no reason in changing that.

Q. Just two quick ones, what role, if any, did you play in Rory coming to Nike? And secondly, are you putting anything different in the bag at the start of this year?

TIGER WOODS: Well, that's - the first part of your question is, no, that's his decision. He's a big boy. He can figure it out on his own. Nike has been fantastic with their innovation over the years. The main reason why I switched in 2000 to the ball and have switched over the years different parts of my equipment is they have innovated and have created a product that's better than what I've been using. And I think Rory saw that. He was excited, from what I've talked to, excited about the testing process and what the future holds for him.

As far as new equipment, I've got the same old stuff, except for - I'm sorry. I did put in a fresh batch of irons, just because the grooves were getting a little bit worn from the end of - most of last year and just wanted to make sure that I start off the year with enough fresh irons, which I do anyways. I usually switch them up probably every six, seven months.

Q. Given this is the start of your season, how much of a statement of intent do you want to make at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship and do you have any fun activities apart from golf this week?

TIGER WOODS: As far as any statement, I just want to get off to a good start. I think it's important that I get off to a good, solid start. I'm playing two weeks in a row, and I had a nice break and have geared up for these two weeks and have tried to get mentally and physically ready for these two tournaments. That's what I'm doing, and you know, over the years, I have generally gotten off to nice starts after breaks, and last year I had a chance going into the final round, made a few mistakes, but I was there. You know, that certainly gave me a lot of confidence going into the rest of the year, as well, because I've been able to get off to a good start. Hopefully I can do the same this year, but finish a couple spots higher than I did last year.

MODERATOR: And as for the fun activities, you're about to go and meet a camel. Doesn't get much more fun than that, Tiger?

TIGER WOODS: Yeah. (Laughter).

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


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