Featured Golf News
Woods Hoping for Return Trip to Winner's Circle
Tiger Woods is back the Washington, D.C., area as the host of the AT&T Championship. The $6.5 million, limited-field event starts Thursday at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md.
Woods won the tournament - which benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation - in 2009 by a stroke over Hunter Mahan after closing with a 3-under 67. After a disappointing weekend in his previous tournament, the U.S. Open two weeks ago at Olympic Club, he's hoping for a better outcome this week. If he can pull off a victory, he'll move past Jack Nicklaus to No. 2 on the all-time win list and be only eight titles behind Sam Snead.
Woods' famous injured knee is fully functional following surgery and extensive rehab. His swing - retooled under instructor Sean Foley, the third of his career - is also in good shape. But Woods admitted Tuesday during a Q&A in advance of the AT&T that his short game has been neglected, which has resulted in some poor scores.
"I would say certainly my short game has been something that has taken a hit, and it did the same thing when I was working with Butch (Harmon, his first instructor) and the same thing when I was working with Hank (Haney, his second). During that period of time, my short game went down, and it's because I was working on my full game," Woods said.
"Eventually I get to a point where the full game becomes very natural feeling and I can repeat it day after day, and I can dedicate most of my time to my short game again."
Congressional, site of the 2011 U.S. Open won by Rory McIlroy by eight strokes, will be played as a par 71 and extend 7,529 yards for the pros. (Aronomink Golf Club near Philadelphia was the site of the AT&T in 2010 and '11 due to Congressional's hosting of last year's Open).
The AT&T is an "invitational," and as such will have an abbreviated 120-man field, versus the 156 players in a typical PGA Tour full-field event. In the first round Woods - now fourth in the latest World Golf Ranking - will be paired with defending champion Nick Watney and 2007 AT&T winner K.J. Choi; they start on the first tee at 12:50 p.m. (ET).
Here's what the 73-time Tour winner had to say during his session with the media.
MODERATOR: Welcome 2009 AT&T National champion Tiger Woods to the media center. We're obviously back at Congressional. Give us some thoughts on that and maybe some opening remarks.
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, looking forward to it. It's great to be back here at Congressional. As everyone knows, I missed the U.S. Open last year, but we're back here after a couple years. We were at Aronimink for a couple and it was fantastic, but now we're back and looking forward to getting out there and taking a look at some of the changes they've made and getting a feel for how the course is playing.
Q. Coming off the Open, do you take more from the first two days or the last two days?
TIGER WOODS: I think that overall it was - the way I struck the golf ball was - I was very pleased by that. I didn't particularly chip or putt well that week, something that I had done at Memorial. I just didn't do that week, and obviously at the Open, that's just one of the things you have to do, and I didn't do that. I didn't make anything from 15 or 20 feet. I made a bunch of putts from 8 to 10 feet and in, but I didn't make any other putts. That week I played very conservative. My game plan worked for the first couple days. I was playing away from a lot of flags, lag putting, but I didn't make anything. I need to hit the ball a little bit closer than I did that week.
Q. Is your strategy off the tee going to be the same as it was at the U.S. Open or different course, different strategy? You were very much in control the first two rounds and it served you well.
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, it all depends how the course is playing. I haven't been out there yet, but from what I hear, it's fast. The fairways are definitely giving it up a little bit. You know, we're going to obviously go out there and play a little bit today, and I'm going to get a feel for what clubs I'll be using off the tees. I've played here when it's been soft, I've played here when it's been fast, and it does change quite a bit. You don't realize when it gets quick how pitched some of these fairways are, and especially these greens, how much they slope from back to front. They've got a lot of pitch to them, a lot of movement, and when they get quick, it gets very difficult.
Q. A lot has been made about your U.S. Open performance. Concerned about the way things went on Saturday and Sunday? There are those out there that feel you regressed, went backwards, which hasn't been your pattern for the most part in majors.
TIGER WOODS: No, it was one of those weekends where I just didn't quite get everything out of my rounds. I was so close on Saturday to getting a good round out of it, and I didn't. You know, it's just one of those things where a fraction off on particularly that U.S. Open venue, or a fraction off, balls that land in the fairway don't stay in the fairway, and I kept hitting the edge of the fairways and going in the rough. There you've not only got to hit the ball in the middle but you've got to hit the ball in the middle with the correct shape. Being a fraction off, certainly it showed up on Saturday, and the beginning of Sunday for sure. But I got it back towards the end of it, played 3 under coming in, and that was something positive.
Q. You prefer this place fast or soft?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I like it quick, because it certainly puts a premium on shaping shots, and more than anything, keeping the ball under the hole. I mean, really got to try and keep it under the hole. We've seen what this place can do when it gets soft, you know, and what the guys can shoot. But I think this week with the weather forecast with it supposed to be as hot as it's supposed to be, I don't think we're going to quite see it as fast as it is right now. They're going to have to put some water on it to try to keep it alive.
Q. Your tournament, winning score, would you like it to be below -
TIGER WOODS: Below 16 under?
TIGER WOODS: As long as I'm that person, yes.
Q. Kind of a two part question: One, what have you worked on most in your game since the U.S. Open? And secondly, I know you weren't here in '09 for the Open, but are there any comparisons or similarities between how it'll play this week compared to an Open setup?
TIGER WOODS: Well, first of all, the first part of your question, I didn't really practice a lot this week. I was with my kids, and I got away from the game, and I was just present with them. As far as '09, it wasn't exactly quick in '09, but it was - it had a little bit of movement. This golf course from what I hear from the guys who have played it this morning and who have been out here, it's way faster than they've ever seen it. I remember how hard and fast it was in '97 at the beginning of the week until it rained. From what I hear, it's very similar to that.
Q. When you've won as many majors and you've won, especially as early as you did, how do you get up for - how hard is it to get up for these tournaments?
TIGER WOODS: Well, that's one of the reasons I don't play that much is to make sure that I'm focused and I'm excited, I'm ready, physically fit and mentally ready to play. You know, if I played 30 times a year, 30 plus times a year, I don't think I would be as ready as I am each and every week I tee it up. And when I think of how my career has turned out, I think I've done the right thing.
Q. The 12 or 15 events that you play, non majors, how do you get up to play them? You still want to win?
TIGER WOODS: Absolutely. Absolutely I want to win, and I certainly want to win, and I think that, as I said, over the course of my career, being able to practice and be ready to play, I think that's been very important to me. I've always enjoyed practicing and practicing my way into a tournament. Some guys like to play their way into shape and play. They don't really practice a lot. I'm one of those guys that just really enjoys practicing.
Q. Why does Jack's record get so much more attention than Sam's, which you're closing in on both of them?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I think it's the same thing, why was Pete Sampras' record so much greater than what Jimmy Connors has done? No one really knows how many wins he's had. I don't know, is it over 100? I believe it's over 100. But I think that the majors certainly have more importance, and we put so much more on it, especially now. I think that with the media and the way it's been, I think that there's so much more media coverage and more attention on major championships. Certainly that's something that wasn't exactly in Jack's day and obviously prior to him. And I think that's just the way it is. Our big events are big, and they're bigger than any other events that we play.
Q. And the majors are harder to win because?
TIGER WOODS: Well, majors are a harder event because, one, you're going to have the best fields, and two, you're going to have the most difficult setups that we play all year. Three of the four rotate, so you don't get the consistency of - even Augusta, they seem to change it most years. So there's no real consistency to the major championships. You're obviously going back to venues that you haven't played in over a decade and you're having to relearn a golf course where they've either changed pars like they did at Pebble Beach, changed tees, changed fairway lines, so you have to relearn a golf course for a week.
Q. When a tournament is held at a private club like this, there are obviously a lot of benefits for the membership but there are also sacrifices that the membership makes. What have been the biggest challenges for the Foundation in terms of getting everybody at Congressional on board, and what is the state of the relationship between the Foundation and the club here?
TIGER WOODS: Well, there's a lot of members here. I believe there's 1,500 members, somewhere around there. Obviously you're not going to have everybody in your corner. Certainly our relationship has been positive over the years. It was fantastic for them to take on a new event after obviously Castle Pines went away, and we did it within a few months, put on an event. With the U.S. Open being here, and then we had to move to Aronimink, we wanted to come back and be a part of this community. We now are based here with our learning center and what we're trying to do and help all the local charities. We've tried to help I think around 125 now local charities here. We've had a significant impact because of Congressional, and we'd like to continue that. Obviously we're here through '14, and we'll see going forward.
Q. So many young players now are going to the long putter, not so much an admission that they're struggling, just maybe that it's a better way. Do you consider that at all? Have you tried it?
TIGER WOODS: I've tried it, and my stroke is infinitely worse. It's just not good. I like the flow of my stroke. I like how I putt. Putting with anchoring or even different configurations of a standard grip, my stroke doesn't flow at all. I think I've done all right with mine, and I think I'm going to stick with it.
Q. At various times in your career you've gone through swing changes or comebacks from injuries. In previous times has there been a difference between winning on Tour and winning a major, and this time is there a progression from winning on Tour to winning a major, and within that, is Congressional playing tough a good learning point?
TIGER WOODS: I see what you're saying. Yeah, there is. I went through a period there in, what, '97, '98 where I didn't really do anything in major championships, and then finally ended up - I had a pretty good year in '99, at the beginning of the year I won a few tournaments, and then finally put it together at the PGA. And the same thing when I - was it '03, '04, I didn't really do anything in the majors, as well, and finally put it together in '05 and '06. I've been through this before, been through a process like this, and then certainly this golf course is just a fantastic golf course, and it's very different than what we're going to be facing a month from now, but it's still a great test.
Q. You talked about the 125 charities that have benefited over the years now. We know about Cesar Chavez, the learning center there. Is the commitment going to expand in the D.C. metro area and are there any other projects the Foundation is working on you can tell us about?
TIGER WOODS: Well, we're looking into it. Right now we're in Ward 6 and Ward 7, and obviously we want to expand on that. We're looking at all different possibilities. It's hard to get the correct facility. That was the most challenging part, but Cesar Chavez was fantastic, and we'd certainly like to expand on that. We've done, I think, some pretty good work with our Earl Woods Scholars and how now we've got 25 of them from the D.C. area now in college, and that's something we want to expand on, as well. That will continue to grow.
As far as our expansion within the D.C. community, yeah, we're always looking at different avenues and how we can do that. It's difficult to marry up sometimes the curriculum and how they teach and what they teach and what we do, and is there going to be an after school program, is it going to be part of the normal curriculum. That's something that's been difficult as we've expanded over the years. Cesar Chavez has been fantastic, and we would definitely like to expand on that.
Q. New efforts worldwide, too?
TIGER WOODS: Absolutely. We're looking at overseas right now. We're looking at some places in Asia and expanding there. You know, for me, I was fortunate enough to have done something, I think, pretty substantive when my dad was still alive, designing the learning center in Orange County, and I would like to do the same thing with my mom's home country in Thailand while she's still here, and that's something that's very important to me is to honor my two parents. We're looking at different expansions throughout Asia but specifically Thailand.
Q. Knowing how avid a sports fan you are, I was wondering about your observations about LeBron James and just how every game, every possession, every series is dissected and the magnitude of the expectations on him as a young guy, and if you could compare the magnitude of that to your own career, the similarities and the differences.
TIGER WOODS: Well, I think what he did in The Finals is just absolutely amazing. Actually the whole year. People forget he was MVP of the year. He had an unbelievable playoffs. He showed every single facet of his game. Things he needed to work on versus last year showed up and were not just - they didn't show up, but they were dominant. It's pretty neat to see somebody who's that talented work on his game and then display it under the most extreme conditions. We saw it with M.J.; he couldn't jump over everybody with the Pistons and eventually learned a different shot, and he mastered going off his right hand, left shoulder. It didn't matter, he could fade away either shoulder.
To me it's just amazing to watch player development like that. As far as the other part of your question, I think that what he did, going into the NBA at age 18 is very different. I went to college for two years and had that type of environment to grow and learn. He went straight into the NBA and was a professional, and that's a big change. That's a big jump from playing high school ball to professionals, and we find the same thing out here. Guys who go from amateur golf and straight into the big leagues, it's tough. You know, he did a fantastic job. He grew. We saw him physically grow but also mature into his game over the years, and it's fun to just sit back and watch. I think that we should all look at what he's done and just sit back and watch one of the greatest players to ever play.
Q. Do you identify with the scrutiny and the intensity of the pressure on him, the way it is on you?
TIGER WOODS: Well, it's just different. I think this is - as I've said, this is a different media time. There's a 24 hours news cycle. That wasn't always the case. The guys who grew up in it certainly have had more attention, more scrutiny than the times when they didn't. I talked about this with Gretsky. He grew up in a time where they didn't have a 24 hour news cycle, and it was different, and then he moved to LA and things changed. There's so many media platforms now that people are trying to get their voices heard, and somehow screaming the loudest and critiquing the hardest is for people to actually know who's saying something.
Q. You've sort of segued right into my question. You seem like you have friends in other professional sports. Do you consult them for career advice? I was just wondering, what do you get out of a friendship with like Gretsky or whoever it might be now, and are there some days you just talk about dumb stuff?
TIGER WOODS: More than anything it's a lot of trash talking and a lot of needling, and it's just nonstop banter. But that's also something we can relate to. We've been in positions at the top of our sport, and we know how it feels and what it takes. I think there's just an unwritten code of understanding, just understand, you just know. So when a person that has dominated their sport rips you and has a good time with it, hey, that's all good, good natured stuff. Some of the guys that I'm friends with that used to play used to do the same thing when they were playing. So it's fun.
Q. Do you have a go to guy to rip on now?
TIGER WOODS: There are a few, certainly a few (smiling).
Q. That was really interesting about the players who adapted their games and learned. I wonder if M.J. learning to alter his game after he couldn't jump over everybody is similar to you making swing changes to compensate for your knee.
TIGER WOODS: Absolutely, absolutely. I didn't want to play the way I did because it hurt, and it hurt a lot. Was I good at it? Yeah, I was good at it, but I couldn't go down that road, and there's no way I could have had longevity in the game if I would have done that. Four knee surgeries later, here we are. I finally have a swing that it doesn't hurt, and I am still generating power, but it doesn't hurt anymore.
Q. When Jack approached 40, he kind of admitted that there were real short game weaknesses that he had, things he had never worked on, sand game. Is there any basic area where you to get better, working the ball a certain way, whatever?
TIGER WOODS: I would say certainly my short game has been something that has taken a hit, and it did the same thing when I was working with Butch and the same thing when I was working with Hank. During that period of time, my short game went down, and it's because I was working on my full game. Eventually I get to a point where the full game becomes very natural feeling and I can repeat it day after day, and I can dedicate most of my time to my short game again. If you ask some guys, short game is like 150 in because that's how far they hit their wedges now.
Q. It seems like every time a major is over and if you don't win, the speculation is, well, Tiger is not back yet, he's not back to his old form. You used to define your career based on the number of majors that you won. Is it still fair to say that you're not back until you do win a major, or is that unfair criticism?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I think it's something that I've done over the years. I've won major championships, and I haven't done it since '08. We all go through periods where that doesn't happen. Some periods are entire careers. But I think I understand how to win major championships. The key is just giving yourself chances. That's the key, giving yourself opportunities on the back nine on Sunday each and every time. That's one of the reasons why Jack was so good at it. He won 18, but you think about it, he finished second 19 times, so he was there. You're not going to win them all, but if you're there a lot, chances are you're going to win your share.
Q. Patrick Cantlay is making his second pro start this week here. In '96 when you turned pro you obviously had to make a run to get your Tour card. You won twice. What was your approach then and what would you consider a good path for Patrick to approach?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I think he did the right thing in turning pro a little bit earlier. I think that Justin Leonard did the same thing, turned pro right after the Open and played his way and got a Tour card. I think that gives you the best chance. You play the Masters, you get the U.S. Open, you get a couple majors under your belt, you get to play with your team in college, play your entire collegiate schedule, and now you've got a lot of tournaments under your belt, and then go ahead and turn pro and try and get your card.
For me in '96 it was a little bit different story. I had a chance to make history. No one has ever won three Amateur Championships, and that was important to me, to at least give it a run. One of the things that I conversed with my dad at the time is that I didn't quite feel I was quite good enough to be a pro yet, until I played the British Open at Lytham and had a really good I think second round. At the time I was either tied or broke the lowest amateur record for a British Open, and to me that was important. It gave me a good sign that, you know what, I think I can do this, and let me see if I can get the Amateur first, and then if I can get the Amateur, go ahead and turn pro, and that's what ended up happening.
Q. Secondarily, with the changes coming to help amateurs qualify for the PGA Tour through Q school and the Nationwide Tour, would you consider amateur players changing their approach towards turning pro or the timing of it to try and match up with -
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, you know what, it's probably more advantageous to turn pro a little bit earlier now because we don't have that - if it does get passed, you don't have that Q school carrot at the end of it. You have to go through the Nationwide Tour and spend a year out there and hopefully get your card in a year, unless you win three tournaments and get your battle field. But I think if you want to do it, I think that it's more advantageous to turn pro early, then if you finish top 10 you don't have to use your exemption the next week; you're automatically exempt into the next week. It starts going, and you can build momentum that way.
But that Q school carrot is always kind of in the back of your mind. I remember when Curtis Strange was a prime example of that. They had two Q schools at the time. He missed the first one, ended up getting the second one, the same year. That's a different time, and obviously we've changed away from that and had one and potentially this one is not going to get the guys out here on Tour.
Q. Going back to Sam Snead, were you aware of his record?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, I was aware of it, but at the time everyone focused on Jack's record, but as I delved more into the game and was probably in high school and things of that nature, I started understanding Sam's contribution to the game of golf and his consistency. The fact that he won at age 52, when he won Greensboro, and to do it for that long is amazing, truly amazing.
Q. People don't talk about it as much because when he died (indiscernible.)
TIGER WOODS: You know, I don't think that - at the time when he passed, it wasn't - people didn't appreciate it, what he had done. On top of that, who he did it against. You compete against Hogan and Nelson your entire playing career, those are two tough guys to beat, and he did it. We saw a couple weeks ago at the U.S. Open, right, got a chance to sit down and talk to Billy Casper. There's another person that is so underappreciated for what he's done, 50 plus wins and no one has any idea. You know, Jack and Gary, that era, but geez, this guy had won more tournaments than he's third on that list.
Q. Can you talk a little about what Beau did at the U.S. Open, and did you have any influence in getting him in this tournament?
TIGER WOODS: Well, as far as the second part, yes. First part, I think that it's - what he did at the U.S. Open is pretty remarkable. You know, it's consistency and handling that golf course and being as consistent as he was, but on that big a stage. That was impressive to see. He's going to college, obviously going to go to UT, I believe, and that's going to be a great experience for him. Fantastic team, obviously they just won the national championship, so he's going to go out for that team, and it's going to be fun for him.
The transcript for the above interview is courtesy of ASAP Sports.