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For the first time in, literarily, months, Tiger Woods had a sit-down session with reporters. On Wednesday, that rare occasion happened in San Diego at Torrey Pines on the eve of the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego.
Woods is in Southern California for an event formerly called the Buick Open. It's his first tournament of 2011. Remarkably, he's won the PGA Tour stop six times. Tack on the 2008 U.S. Open on the South course at the municipal facility and the 1991 Junior World Championships and the Southern Cal native has a total of eight wins at Torrey Pines in recent memory.
He didn't have a victory in 2010, the first time that's happened since he turned pro in 1996, so Woods is obviously in a comfortable place this week to change a dubious personal stat.
On Wednesday, on the eve of what is being considered perhaps one of the most watershed moments in the suddenly checkered career of the 71-time PGA Tour winner, Woods met with reporters.
One of the first questions Woods fielded is whether he's lost some of the mystique - and intimidation factor - from when he was pretty much indomitable and racking up all those wins in the Buick Open and other tournaments around the globe.
"I've heard it before," Woods said before the start of the first round. "I've gone through stretches where I haven't won. I've had it happen in my career before, and I've been through this before. It's fine. All I have to do is keep working and stick to the game plan, just like I have in the past. I think my record kind of speaks to that."
Here's what else Tiger had to say during his wide-ranging session with reporters.
MODERATOR: I'd like to welcome Tiger Woods to the 2011 Farmers Insurance Open. Tiger, you've won six of 11 here at this event, going to be making your first start since 2008 here, if you kind of want to talk about coming back and some thoughts on your season looking ahead?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, looking forward to it. Obviously, I haven't been here in a few years, and over the years I've had a little bit of success here. Really looking forward to getting out there and playing and seeing the golf course and see what shape it's in. I've heard nothing but good things from the guys who played yesterday, but I'd like to get out there and see it myself.
Q. What were your thoughts when you saw the grouping, the pairings the first couple of days?
TIGER WOODS: I don't know how that computer did that. It's kind of a surprise isn't it, though (smiling). Just randomly put us together. No, I'm looking forward to it. Rocco and I have obviously had a little bit of history here, but also again I've known him since my rookie year, and he's been great to me. It's going to be a lot of fun going out there and playing with him and A.K. It's going to be a good pairing.
Q. Tiger, we haven't seen you play for a while. Could you give us the low down on how your game is and whether you're satisfied or not with the state of it?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, well, it's just all we're doing is a continuation of what we've been working on and just trying to get more refined and that's it. I mean, I took a little bit of time off after Chevron, and started getting after it after a couple of weeks off. I feel pleased. I'm looking forward to getting out there and playing, and basically feeling the heat again and see where I need to make improvements.
Q. Tiger, a little bit of a change of routine for you this week. You didn't play yesterday. Why was that? Did you ask to play on the south today just to get more work in on the south?
TIGER WOODS: I didn't ask for anything. I just play where I play.
Q. They changed it. That's why I was wondering?
TIGER WOODS: That's what I heard too, but I just play. As far as not coming out here yesterday, I had some things to do at home and worked on those things at home, took care of those and came out here.
Q. There have been a few viewer-called-in rules incidents lately. You've been on television more than any golfer probably ever, and you haven't had a whole lot of those incidents. Do you attribute that to you knowing the rules? Where did you learn to know the rules so well?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I think one is it's our responsibility as players to know the rules. That's just part of playing the game. For us, as players, we're out there doing it for a living. I think we should know the rules. The only difference is with these rulings are some of these guys who are on TV more than others. I'm sure there are some rules infractions that have happened and will continue to happen, but the guys aren't on TV all the time. So from that regard, I don't think it's a level playing field. Again, it's part of our responsibility as players to know these rules.
Q. Do you spend much time watching the 2008 U.S. Open ever? Do you ever pop it in just to check it out? Is there any highlight from that that stands out? Maybe the putt on the 72nd hole or anything that you key on?
TIGER WOODS: I have watched it a few times. I really don't watch much of Sunday or Monday, but I do tend to watch Saturday quite a bit if I do reflect on it. Saturday is what turned the whole tournament around. I was kind of not really -- I had a nine-hole stretch there, I think on, what, Friday I made a little run there. But Saturday was key because I wasn't hitting very good. But played the back nine, made a couple eagles and a chip-in at 17. So that's kind of what I look at is I somehow got myself into Sunday's contention with a pretty sweet back nine. Saturday probably hurt more than any other days I played. So to perform at that level while I was feeling that much pain was something I look back on. I'm very proud of.
Q. Do you think back on that and wonder how you got through it?
TIGER WOODS: You know, I try to figure that out now and I have no idea. It was stupid to play and go through that much pain. As I've told you guys after that, I kept re-breaking the leg. So I broke it more than what it was in the beginning of the week. I have a little bit of a hard-headed side to me.
Q. One of the missing ingredients last year was your putting. Have you studied what was going on there last year and what have you been working on?
TIGER WOODS: I just hadn't spent as much time on putting. I didn't focus on my short game as much as I needed to and I have in the past. It's because I was making so many swing changes, and it's hard to allot as much time as I needed to do that. That's what was nice about this off-season is I was able to work on my putting and my stroke and go back to my old keys and old feels. Just putting in the work. It takes thousands of balls, and I was able to do that. Last year I really didn't do much of that, and consequently I had probably one of the worst putting years I've had.
Q. Yesterday the commissioner was in here and he was talking about the upcoming television negotiations and how a comeback year by you might or might not affect those things. Obviously, everybody knows what happens when you're playing well and you're on the leaderboard on Sunday in terms of peaking interest. Do you feel any extra pressure or responsibility? I know you have personal reasons for wanting to do better this year, but do you feel any extra pressure to sort of lift the Tour up and keep it going from the business standpoint?
TIGER WOODS: I think the Tour is very healthy. We've got some of the players that have played well for a long period of time, still playing well, and we've got some new, fresh, young blood out here that is making the Tour exciting to watch. So I think it's healthy. We're just in a tough marketplace right now. It's going to be interesting to see what Tim's going to do. Obviously I would like to play well, and hopefully that helps. But first I need to take care of my own and get the ball to the hole faster than I have in the past.
Q. When was the last time you had an off-season like this last off-season where you were able to concentrate on your game or weren't coming off a surgery or dealing with personal issues? It would seem like in terms of getting into the blocks you've got to be positioned for a good start right now as well as you have in maybe four or five years?
TIGER WOODS: Actually it was about six years ago, to be honest, so it's been a while. I've been hurt quite a bit over that period of time, so it was nice to have a true off-season and work on my game.
Q. Everyone likes to put expectations on you. It's kind of a little game. Rocco said yesterday he expects you to win at least four times. What are your expectations for this year?
TIGER WOODS: My expectations are the same. Whatever event I enter is to win the event. I think the commissioner would like me to play more than four events (laughing).
Q. Can you run us through over the last year how your love of the game fluctuated and where golf may have moved on your list of priorities?
TIGER WOODS: Well, the thing is that I obviously was consumed by other things in the last year and had to deal with that. Life goes on and life moves forward. That is what's most exciting about this year is having the proper perspective on things. And my kids are doing great, and that's my number one priority. Golf falls somewhere down the list after that.
Q. You had a cortisone shot in your ankle over Christmas. When exactly was that and are there going to be more in the future? TIGER WOODS: Well, I think was it Tuesday or Wednesday after Chevron. Just had some swelling from the year of obviously not swinging well. I needed to relieve some of that inflammation, hence I had it done. Hopefully, I swing better so I don't have to do that.
Q. When did you realize that your Pro-Am tee times were going to be different this year than they have been for a while? Are you going to adjust to your routine?
TIGER WOODS: I just found out a couple of days ago, but it is what it is. I play when I'm scheduled to play and show up on time.
Q. Will it change your routine tournament-wise?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, I get to sleep in a little bit. Got up at 3:30 this morning not knowing what to do.
Q. You're a new member of Twitter. Are you embracing this new social media like Ian Poulter wants you to, or are you having fun with it?
TIGER WOODS: I am having fun with it. It's a way for me to connect with the fans on a different level. I don't obviously tweet as much as Poults does. But it's new to me. I'm still getting adjusted to it, and it's fun. Some of the people who have obviously followed and some of the people that I know, I've answered some of their questions. It's kind of funny because all they have to do is just text me, but it is kind of fun. I'm starting it to get the hang of it a little bit, but bear with me.
Q. You don't care how many followers you have? You're not trying to beat anybody?
TIGER WOODS: I'm not. I'm just trying to, obviously, connect with the fans on a different level. Also show them a side of me that most of my friends know. There are some things outside that they probably don't really know yet.
Q. How much better is your state of mind right now as compared to the worst moments last year? And how important is that to what happens inside the ropes?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I think in order to play this game at a high level, it helps to have a clear mind. I've played at the high levels before in the past without a clear mind, but it helps to be consistent. It helps having your life in balance. Certainly my life is much more balanced than it was in the past. That is exciting for me. I think it's exciting for my kids, and we're really looking forward to it.
Q. How much of your performance at Chevron last year was a lift or a letdown considering the result going into the off-season and getting ready to come here?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I think the whole year last year golf-wise came down to one golf shot, and that's what I'm so proud of. The 72nd hole of Chevron, that was it. All the changes I made in my swing I needed it the most. I needed to hit the 8-iron with that kind of shot, and I pulled it off. So under the most intense pressure I hit the shot I needed to hit when I needed to hit it. That's something I've done in the past with Butch and Hank, and it's nice to have those moments because it reaffirms what you're doing is right. Even though I obviously lost the four-shot lead, but as far as my golf swing goes, that one shot was it. That was cool because I needed to hit that fade. I needed to hit the 8-iron flush. I needed to get it there. I needed to hit it through the wind. And I did all those things and hit it to two and a half feet. Those are fun moments.
Q. In your mind, do you go into this season with anything to prove and why?
TIGER WOODS: One thing I'm just trying to get better. Trying to build on what I did last year and the end of last year. I think that's where I'm at. Sean and I have been talking about that quite a bit. We're excited about where my game has progressed over the off-season. Just get out there and play.
Q. You've talked about how you're a different person, how priorities have changed. We've always known you as such a determined person. You've talked about that drive to win. How does that all balance in now? Does that change at all? Is it tweaked a little bit the determination? Do you care as much about winning as you did before? Is it slightly different?
TIGER WOODS: Well, the determination hasn't changed. It's just that I need to be focused and put into a proper perspective. I went down a path I should never have gone, and now the determination is keeping my life in balance. That's where it's at. If my life's in balance throughout the course of my career, I've had good years. More importantly, what's most important to me is my kids. I need to be in balance for them, and that's what it's all about.
Q. Does your determination on the course change? When you're on the course you're away?
TIGER WOODS: No, the goal's still the same. Try to beat all their butts. It hasn't changed.
Q. As you said, you're a relative newcomer to Twitter. I just wondered what sort of handicap you'd give yourself as a tweeter at the moment?
TIGER WOODS: Probably not very good.
Q. What did you make of Poulter's repeated effort yesterday to engage you in banter?
TIGER WOODS: It's just Poults. He's probably just bored and has nothing to do. I was at home and working on my game, and flying out here. That's just Poults being Poults, and that's fine.
Q. Do you feel as though you have a normal life now?
TIGER WOODS: Yes, talking to you guys is real normal (laughing). At 9:30 on a Wednesday, yeah.
Q. Just in general, are things back to normal for you? Are you just a normal guy, going to basketball games, playing golf?
TIGER WOODS: Life's more in balance. I think that's what you're asking.
Q. Wonder if you could quantify at all if you're more excited about the start of this season than perhaps some other seasons maybe even in the last ten years since you were going for the Tiger slam, and if so, why?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I think as I answered earlier, I think it's nice to have an off-season where I wasn't in pain and recovering from something. I've had so many darn surgeries and everything. Granted I had a cortisone shot, but I was fine in a week. I haven't had an off-season like this. It's always been trying to somehow can I get myself to start up again. This was nice to actually practice and build. It was something I haven't been able to do. That's been fun. Hopefully I can continue this.
Q. Would you say you're fresher then?
TIGER WOODS: Absolutely, absolutely.
Q. Ian has taken to nicknaming you by your world ranking, No. 2 and now No. 3. Obviously, he's having fun with it. But with your competitive spirit does that sting at you a little bit, or do you think it's fine?
TIGER WOODS: No, no, no. I mean, granted, obviously I have a few lines I've jabbed at him, but I won't put that out there like he does with me (smiling).
Q. Tiger, just talk about being in San Diego again. Does this hold a special place in your heart? You used to come here with your dad, I understand?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, I came down here and watched Andy Williams, so for me this was the first PGA Tour event I've ever seen. I remember watching Craig Stadler, O'Meara, and Cook, they're all Southern Cal guys. My dad said these guys are from here. Obviously, Craig went to SC, and Quicky went to Ohio State, but grew up here. Mo grew up in Mission Viejo. So came down here and watched those guys. It obviously goes way back for me. This was the first tournament that I ever watched, as I said, at a PGA Tour level. I played here as a junior. I came down here and played the south course when I was 7 or 8. So it goes way back for me. It means a lot to come back down here. I have so many friends and family down here that come and watch. Coming to this event means a lot to me.
Q. You talked about your off-season being healthy for the first time. Can you compare first off, what is the state of your general health, and can you compare that now to the last time you were here in 2008, which obviously wasn't very good?
TIGER WOODS: No, it wasn't very good in 2008. Yeah, no ACL. I just came off surgery after the Masters to repair cartilage that I had torn. Ended up breaking my leg playing here, so it was just not a very fun health-wise moment of my life. This year I feel great. It's great to be back. I do feel more fresh, because I've had an off-season. I had a chance to train and get ready and practice and prepare, so I'm looking forward to the season.
Q. When you first started working with Sean you even admitted a little trepidation about going through it again. But now it seems like it's gone faster than you would have thought maybe. Can you just talk about that and how that process has evolved. Has it gone faster, and are you somewhat surprised that it has, if so?
TIGER WOODS: It has. There's no doubt it has gone faster. I certainly would not have foreseen the results that I had at Chevron so early. If you ask, the trepidation part of it was do I need to go through another swing overhaul again? One of the things that Sean and I talked about is some of the positions that he would like to see me in, I've done that before. He showed me some video of when I was a junior, and granted, I got there in a different way, but still some of the positions were familiar to me. So once I got going with Sean and we started working, some of these positions started coming back to me, and I felt comfortable with it. But granted, how I got there was way different. That was, again, the adjustment. That's what took time. A lot of talking with Sean, not hitting golf balls, just talking. What he'd like to see, feel, and we just worked on it. We did more talking than hitting golf balls, especially early, because it was about understanding the philosophy. It's been good. Certainly, as I said, that shot at Chevron on 18 certainly validates that for me.
Q. As memorable and as profitable as the Open was here, are you surprised that the USGA has not awarded another Open here? And would you lobby them to do so?
TIGER WOODS: I'd certainly like to see them come back here, no doubt. I don't know how far out the Open goes, but I'm pretty sure it goes out pretty far to 2020 or something like that, whatever it is. But, yeah, I think everyone who is involved in this event, I thought it was, for me personally, I thought it was a huge success. But I think everyone here who came out to watch, I think everyone had a good time. I think they certainly raised plenty of money. So there is no reason why from a business standpoint that they wouldn't come back. It was the first time that we went on primetime. I think that was a big success as well. To be able to showcase our sport at that time on the east coast was pretty huge.
Q. There's been so much commentary about you in the last six months maybe a year that you'll never win another major. You'll not dominate again. Whatever mystique you had is gone. What are your thoughts when you hear that?
TIGER WOODS: That's fine. I've heard it before. I've gone through stretches where I haven't won. I've had it happen in my career before, and I've been through this before. It's fine. All I have to do is keep working and stick to the game plan, just like I have in the past. I think my record kind of speaks to that.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. And good luck this weekend.
TIGER WOODS: Thank you.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.