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Tiger Seeks Fifth Green Jacket


Tiger Woods has always had great success at Augusta National. Indeed, his overpowering performances over the years in the Masters - four victories and 12 top-10 finishes - led club officials to "Tiger-proof" the course, adding yardage, planting trees and generally toughening up the layout.

Now 36 and with a retooled golf swing overseen by instructor Sean Foley, Woods has managed to overcome personal demons and physical problems the past few years. Despite those issues, since his fourth green jacket in 2005 he's managed six top-six finishes at Augusta every year, including two runner-ups in 2007 and '08 and fourth place in both '10 and '11.

Quite simply, Augusta National is a place Woods knows well. And he gives credit for that insider's knowledge to tips gleaned from former champions and other veterans. "It's understanding how to play this golf course, where to miss it," he told reporters Tuesday, two days before the start of the 2012 Masters. "I've gotten just umpteen amount of advice from guys who've played here, way more than I have, and that's really helped.

"Over the years of playing with Raymond (Floyd) and Freddie (Couples) and Ollie (Jose Maria Olazabal) and Nick Price, you name it . . . just understanding how to play this golf course. Granted, it's changed over the years, but you still miss in the same spots. And understanding how to do that has really helped me over the years, and I think that's one of the reasons why you see so many guys here, the older players, are in contention a lot because they just know how to play it."

With a better handle on his personal life and a fully heeled left leg, Woods finally broke a 30-month victory drought two weeks ago at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, closing with a 2-under 70 at Bay Hill for his first win - and the 72nd of his illustrious career - since the 2009 BMW Championship.

If Woods wins this week at Augusta National, he will have reached 15 major titles, only three behind the record of Jack Nicklaus, who also happens to be the all-time Masters winner with six green jackets.

On Tuesday, Woods met with the media to discuss his resurgent golf game and the chances to move one Masters' title from golf's "Golden Bear." Here's what Tiger had to say during that Q&A.

MODERATOR: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It is always a great pleasure to welcome back to Augusta our four time Masters champion, Mr. Tiger Woods. And this marks Tiger's 18th Masters appearance. Tiger, you're coming into Augusta with your game apparently hitting on all cylinders, and your decisive win at Bay Hill was most impressive. If you could comment, please, sir, on how your preparations going so far this week, and in particular, have your swing revisions altered or modified the way you attack or approach Augusta National.

TIGER WOODS: The golf course is a little bit wet out there. Obviously we got some pretty good rains here. Today I played nine holes with Freddie and Sean, and seven drives and had seven mud balls. So hopefully it will dry out, but I think the forecast is for more rain. But the greens are absolutely perfect. They are quick, there's no doubt, but they are pretty soft and pretty receptive. So far as my swing goes, I think that it will be interesting to see how they set up the golf course, and that kind of depends - well, actually it will dictate whether I hit some of the clubs I'm in between on. And we'll see how it goes. It looks like it's going to be a great week, got a great field, and really looking forward to it. I came up here the Sunday before Bay Hill, and it was playing just about like how it is right now. And hopefully it will dry out a little bit so we can get after some of these pins.

Q. Did it feel like old times a little bit at Bay Hill, just getting back in the win column a little bit, and just what did that do for your confidence?

TIGER WOODS: Yeah, felt just like it did in December. (Laughter.) It felt good.

Q. You love hearing that.

TIGER WOODS: Absolutely. But it felt good to go out there and play as well as I did and under those conditions. It wasn't like it was easy that Sunday. The scores were pretty high. To go out there with the lead and increase the lead was a good feeling. The way I hit the golf ball and putted all day, I felt like I went out there and earned the win. It wasn't given to me. I had to go out there and shoot a really good number under really tough conditions. That felt really good to do.

Q. If I could follow, as part of that, people just kind of assume because of what you've accomplished that confidence is never an issue, you know what I mean. Did that do something to your confidence with doing what you just said you did on Sunday?

TIGER WOODS: Well, I think it was just a process. I've been putting together two good rounds, eventually three, and now four; so just had to keep sticking with it and getting more experience working with Sean. You know, this year you can see the numbers. End of last year and most of this year, I've been in contention. I'm just continuing the process. I got there with the lead, and as I said, under tough conditions. I handled it well.

Q. What's the best way to handle the greens here at Augusta, and is the best putter usually the winner?

TIGER WOODS: Generally if you hit it really close all the time you're okay (grinning). I think that you try and avoid three putts obviously. I think it's a product of good ball striking if you're able to putt well, because you can hit the ball decent around here and catch the wrong sides of slopes, miss them by a yard, and next thing you know, you're 40, 50, 60 feet away and it wasn't that bad of a shot.

But if you miss it in the correct spot, it's an easy chip, easy putt. I think it requires good ball striking, but generally the guys that have won here have really putted well, avoided 3 putts, and have made the correct - the big putt from ten feet or so for par. Those are huge around here. No matter what you do, you're going to have those kind of putts, and you're going to have to bury them. That's the only way you can stay in there. They are going to be tricky. Some are going to be really quick and breaky. And other ones, you're going to have to be pretty aggressive. There's so much slope out here, and as we all know, if they get dry conditions, as the week goes on, it's going to get awfully quick and those putts become even more difficult.

Q. Last two years, tied for fourth, probably you admit not at your best in either tournament. First, how did you do that, not at your best; and second, does that help you this year knowing that you're playing so much better than you were then?

TIGER WOODS: Well, Bob, I think it's understanding how to play this golf course. As Rob was saying, this is my 18th year, so I've spent just about half my life playing this tournament. It's understanding how to play this golf course, where to miss it. I've gotten just umpteen amount of advice from guys who have played here way more than I have. That's really helped. Over the years of playing with Raymond and Freddie and Ollie and Nick Price, you name it, right on down the list, of just understanding how to play this golf course.

Granted, it's changed over the years, but still, you still miss it in the same spots. Just understanding how to do that has really helped me over the years, and I think that's one of the reasons why you see so many guys here. The older players are in contention a lot, but they just know how to play it.

Q. Has it helped you this year, though, knowing that you're playing better with all that knowledge?

TIGER WOODS: I certainly am excited about playing and really looking forward to getting out there and playing. I feel like I'm driving the ball much better than I have. I've got some heat behind it, and it's very straight. You know, my iron game is improving. So everything is headed in the right direction at the right time.

Q. Two things about the greens again. First of all, I think there's an assumption that if it rains more, it may or may not, but the golf course might be easier. But with the SubAir system, would it play harder, it will play longer and yet the greens could still be firm?

TIGER WOODS: One, the greens are cut into the grain off the tees, so you're not going to get any chase. And the potential of getting mud balls further back, and with the SubAir, as you said, these greens can dry out very quickly. As I said, they are receptive, but they are quick. It's an interesting combo, because we don't face that very often.

The only golf courses that have true SubAir, we are able to kind of deal with that, but not too many golf courses we play are like that. They turn it on here - as we all know, playing here over the years, you can play practice rounds, you know, however many you want, you can play a hundred practice rounds. But Wednesday to Thursday, it's just a totally different golf course. You've just got to make that adjustment.

Q. Secondly, about the greens, do you notice any subtle changes from last year? I think Phil mentioned it might be a couple; have you noticed any, any adjustments you need to make how you strategically approach a shot?

TIGER WOODS: Eight and 16 have been redone. But the things I've noticed is that there are different breaks on those greens than there are in the past. And they are subtle. As Phil says, they are significance on these greens because a subtle change is pretty significant at this speed. I've had to redo some of my charting on those greens, because the old breaks are out the window.

Q. You have a pretty good record here on the par-5s. How critical is it to score well on those, and also, what's the most strategic par-5 in your mind here?

TIGER WOODS: Well, as far as the par-5s, Zach proved you don't have to always go for them. But you still have to play them well. You have to play them at least half under par for the week. I mean, you just have to take care of those par-5s, because there are so many pin locations on the par-4s and the par-3s, that it just gets very difficult to make easy birdies. Good drives on the four par-5s, for the longer hitters, we can all get there.

Eight, questionable sometimes. But the other three we know we can get there. As far as the most strategic, certainly 13. I think 13, TV doesn't do justice to how hooked that lie is on that second shot, and the green is set up for a fade for a righty. And it's a hard shot (chuckling) to try and cut one off that lie or trust that you've got to start it right at Rae's Creek or at Rae's Creek and draw it in there. Sometimes the wind tends to swirl down in there a little bit. There's a pretty dicey second shot from that kind of hanging lie.

Q. So what is the main advantage to going for it in two? Obviously you're up near the green. What's the main advantage at Augusta National in going for it in two?

TIGER WOODS: Well, I think if you can't get there in two, you obviously lay up to a specific number that you've practiced and you can hit that number with your eyes closed. I mean, the perfect example of that is what Zach did. He laid up to all specific numbers and played them great. If you can get there, you can get in the bunkers, get around the green, short game can take over. There are so many different angles that you can play. For instance, No.2, depends on the flag, you can play right or left. On 8, you have seen guys blow it over to 9 to give themselves an angle in there.

13 is a tough up and down from the left side, but it's doable. Then 15 is really not that tough a pitch unless the pin is down on the left and you've got to come down a slope. But pin high there, you've got a pretty decent shot of making birdie.

Q. Rory McIlroy last year - you've seen a lot of Rory firsthand and on TV. How impressed were you by his recovery at the U.S. Open after what happened on the final round?

TIGER WOODS: Very, very. Because I had not met Rory at that time and I didn't really know much about him. I had not played golf with him yet, so I had not seen it. The first time I got a chance to really sit down and talk to him was this year at Abu Dhabi when we played nine holes together. Then we ended up being paired together. That was fun I think for both of us. But as far as his recovery, it was cool to see someone learn from their mistakes like that and apply it. You know, he was playing so well, and so be it. He just had one bad round. It happens to everybody, and we have all been in those situations where we've had one bad round. He learned from it, applied it, and ran away with it. That was some pretty impressive playing at the Open.

Q. I was going to ask you about Rory. When you see the amount of success that he's had at a young age, particularly in this past year, is there anything that reminds him of you? We have fun casting him as the new next guy that can challenge. Does anything remind him of you at all?

TIGER WOODS: Yeah, obviously he can move the out there. I used to move it like that back in yesteryear. At the time, averaging 295 was big at the time. Now you're not even in the top 50. But the way he plays, and I think the way he handles himself out there on the golf course, how competitive he is, he's very feisty. It's what you have to be out here. You know, he has all of the makings of being a great champion for a long period of time. We have seen him obviously what he did last year at the Masters and how he came back at the Open. He led, what, seven out of eight rounds in major championships last year, which is pretty impressive, right in a row. So he just needs to get more experienced. That's just from playing. He's put himself there. Seems like every single tournament he plays in, he's in the top 10, and that's great to see.

Q. You talk about playing with some of the veterans when you were a kid. What do you remember about playing with Nicklaus in those early days, and is there anything at age 36 you still use, some piece of advice he maybe gave you 10, 15, or 20 years ago?

TIGER WOODS: I played with Jack and Arnold on Wednesday in '95. You know, I was an amateur, so Arnold comes up to me and says, "How about a little skins game today." I said, "Well, I don't have any cash." (Laughter).

He says, "Don't worry about it. Just play hard." I said, all right, here we go.

We go and play. We have a great time. I'm pretty chatty out there. I'm trying to gain as much intel as I possibly can, and I'm asking them on every hole, what do you do here, what do you do here, what do you do here, and I'm pretty sure they got sick and tired of me. We get to 18, and Arnold makes a nice putt for birdie on 18 for all the skins, basically. And I could see Jack is over there, a little ticked about it. He says, "Enough of this. Why don't we go get him on the par-3 course."

I said, "Well, Jack, I don't have - my tee time is much later." "Just come with me." "Yes sir. How are we going to get on there?"

He says, "Don't worry about it." We walk over there, we are on deck, just out of the blue. Okay, this is nice. (Laughter.) We get around and play the par-3 course, and probably the most nervous I think I had ever been was the last hole on the par-3 course.

You think it's just a simple 9-iron shot, no big deal. Arnold almost holed it, Jack almost holed it, and now it's my turn. I was just trying to go for dry land, and somehow I was able to hit on dry land and I was pretty stoked about it. But Jack that year told me some of the putts he's hit over the years, some of the things that has changed about the golf course and strategy on how to play certain flags. I thought, you know, I never looked at it that way on some of the holes.

He says, "With your length, just go ahead and just beat it down there." Because obviously at the time, there was no rough, and it was all about angles. So you need that angle on nine, you need to get it down that side, you need to fire at the green. Things like that. We can't do that now because the golf course is so much longer. But at the time, it was all about the different angles.

Q. How far back do we have to go to where you controlled your ball as well as you are now, and how does the control of today feel like, say, to 2000 when you dominated?

TIGER WOODS: Consistently, with this type of control, it's been a few years. But as far as having the speed and the pop in my game, it's been a very long time. You know, I think I have more shots than I did in 2000. I had, I guess relatively - I guess I'm not driving the ball as far, but I'm longer than I was in 2000. So it's a different game. The guys are much taller, much bigger, much more athletic. There weren't that many guys over six foot, and now it seems like everybody is 6'3" and above. The game has become bigger and stronger.

The new carry - before, when I played back in 2000, the big carry was 280. That was a big carry over a corner. Now that's been moved out to 315, 320. It's just a different number now. But as far as controlling my game, yeah, I feel like I'm hitting the ball just as consistently day in and day out as I did then.

Q. Obviously a lot has been made about your quest to pass Jack's 18 majors. Obviously you have many, many good years of golf left and hopefully your health keeps up. What would it mean to tie 73 if you put on a green jacket on Sunday? How would that make you feel?

TIGER WOODS: I'd like the green jacket more. I know the 73 would be a byproduct of it, but I'm here for the green jacket.

Q. What, if anything, should we take from the fact that three of Sean's golfers have won in the last month?

TIGER WOODS: Well, he's good at what he does. You know, I think if you look at the guys he works with, and we are all pretty good ball strikers, that's basically what Sean focuses on. That's basically what he focuses on, on ball striking. I think Ames y was the first one that brought him out here, and he was a pretty good ball striker for a number of years. Sean was there for a while, and obviously they have moved on, but a pretty good ball striker. And now obviously Hunter, Rosey, and myself. Day in, day out, we hit it pretty good.

Q. What is different about Hunter that you see this year?

TIGER WOODS: He's putting well. He's always hit it good. But switching up putters there at the Match Play really helped him a lot. Once you see a few putts go in, the momentum just carries. He's always driven it well. He's always hit his irons well. He's always given himself a lot of opportunities, but now he's cashing in on those opportunities, and obviously they are starting to roll.

Q. Last year you had a really good run on the front nine on Sunday, and got up in the lead, and were not able to sustain it on the back. How hard is it under the conditions of a Sunday at Augusta with a green jacket on the line to sustain that kind of momentum for 18 holes, because you were with Phil I think a couple of years before, when he had a similar run on the front and then was not able to hold it.

TIGER WOODS: One, it's not easy, because there are not a whole lot of 63s out here on this golf course. I mean, you would think that somebody over the years would have gone lower than 63, but no one has. It's just tough out there. You get on a roll here, but you've still got some tough holes to play and you've got to take care of them. It seems like most of the guys have a run of, let's say, four to eight holes where they really do some damage. You know, Jack had his back nine, but his back nine didn't start till 11, right. My run here in 2005, I think I made seven in a row in one stretch, and obviously wasn't on a Sunday. But you can have that type of run over this golf course, but it's hard to sustain over an entire round for some reason. I think the golf course, just it's so difficult, so subtle, that it's just hard to do.

Q. How often do players now ask you advice about this place, and do you help them?

TIGER WOODS: Yeah, I do, I do help them. Today I played with Sean and we were talking about the golf course and what flag you fire at and where do you want to miss it to this flag; where do you hit over the green to this; blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And yeah, I help him as much as I possibly can and playing together tomorrow. He wants some more advice on the other nine holes. (Laughter) Obviously I had something good to say I guess. I think it's just the role of being here, one, as a champion and being here a number of years is that you pass knowledge on. It's not something that we hold and are going to keep sacred. We pass it on from one generation to the next. That's what we do.

Q. Can you talk about where you feel you are now compared to where you were in 2010, two years ago?

TIGER WOODS: Say again?

Q. Can you compare where you are now to where you were two years ago?

TIGER WOODS: Well, I wasn't hitting the ball very good. It was just having an understanding of how to play around this golf course, and that's certainly, as I was explaining earlier, is that coming to a golf course that we play each and every year certainly helps. And playing here for so many years now; this is, as I said, my 18th year, so understanding how to play this golf course has really helped me over the years.

Q. Personally, as well, because obviously two years -

TIGER WOODS: Yeah, but it's also coming here to a golf course that I know. As I said, knowing how to play it, and just the history behind this tournament just makes it so special.

MODERATOR: We thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you, Tiger, so much for being with us and good luck this week.

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