WGC AMERICAN EXPRESS CHAMPIONSHIP MEDIA DAY
July 26, 2004
FINTAN DRURY: In September 2002, he won the World Golf Championships, American Express Championship, at Mount Juliet in County Kilkenny in Ireland. Last year at Crabapple Course at the Capital City Club in Woodstock he defended his title so that next September he will return to Mount Juliet Conrad with a hat trick of championships in mind. When he first played competitively in Ireland two years ago he was the world's No. 1 and he remains in that position today. Ladies and Gentlemen, we are obviously delighted to welcome one of the great iconic figures of world sport today, Tiger Woods, by video conference from his office in Orlando, Florida, to join our news conference. Tiger, good morning to you. I'm sure you were expecting the soft dulcite Scottish tones of Gordon Simpson who made the introduction of this concept to you some months ago and had said that he would be here to greet you. Unfortunately, Gordon has succumbed to a very bad back problem and was unable to travel to Ireland for our news conference today. He sends his apologies and his best regards to you. I'm the stand-in. My name is Fintan Drury. I work with the European Tour and the Federations here in Ireland. We are delighted to welcome you. We just concluded the first part of a news conference on this year's forthcoming World Golf Championships, American Express Championship. We have had talks from the sponsors, the championship director, Peter Adams, members of the Irish Tourist Board and of course Tim Mahony and Owen Carter of Mount Juliet Conrad. We have as you would expect a very large gathering of the Irish golf media here. It's really important for them to get the opportunity to ask you some questions about returning to Mount Juliet Conrad where you had such a wonderful success in 2002. But if I can just warm up the audience, so to speak, by asking you, apart from your delight no doubt at winning The Championship in 2002, what are your memories of your first competitive trip to Ireland?
TIGER WOODS: Well, my first competitive trip, I had a great time. You know, I played extremely well. Those are probably the best greens that I have ever putted on. On top of that, the weather was great, too.
FINTAN DRURY: The whether's always great. Tim Mahony, from Mount Juliet Conrad, is delighted you've again spoken so highly of the greens. But the World Golf Championships has become a very important series now in World Golf. How do you rank The Championships vis-a-vis the rest of the game?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I have to say they're a tier below the major championships, but they are another way of having the world's best gather and compete against each other. We have our major championships, but it's great to have another avenue, another venue for all of us to get together. I think it makes for exciting golf, and it's a great way to spread the game of golf all around the world.
FINTAN DRURY: Were you somewhat surprised that the event was coming back to Ireland so soon again?
TIGER WOODS: No, not at all, not after the way we were received the last time we were there. The fans were ecstatic, they were happy. They were so enthusiastic about us being there and playing that, I was kind of used to it already. Being there and fishing there before the British Open, I've kind of gotten used to how Americans and basically players are received when we play all around the country, preparing The Open Championship. We were always received extremely well, and gracious. Just had a great time. It was just an extenuation of that.
FINTAN DRURY: Thank you for those opening comments. I'm going to throw it open now to the floor. Who is first into the fray?
Q. Given your success today and that of two years ago, is it a case of taking one step back and two steps forward or do you feel the rest of the field has closed the gap?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I think it's a matter of both. I have certainly not played up to the level that I know I can play at. But the things that I'm working on will hopefully kick in and will take me to another level. But also the guys are working harder. The equipment has gotten better. The guys are in better shape now. Their techniques are better. They're working more hours on the range, as well as in the gym. It's just a matter of time before those guys were going to take it up another notch, and they have.
Q. Seve Ballesteros said the other day he considered Ernie Els to be the No. 1 player in the world right now. Would you agree with his assessment? If not, can you understand why he might say that?
TIGER WOODS: I can certainly understand that. He has certainly been extremely consistent this entire year. I haven't played as many -- actually I haven't won as many tournaments as Ernie has. You know, he's played extremely well in the major championships. Barring Sunday at Shinnecock, he's had a great run.
Q. You're going for your third title in a row in this championship. Are you happy with your form ahead of that?
TIGER WOODS: I am. I'm very pleased. The things that I have done since basically this summer, last two days of the Western and then The Open Championship, I really played well at The Open Championship, I just made no birdies on the Back 9. That's not how you win a championship. But overall, I'm very pleased with the way my game is progressing and coming together.
Q. The last time you played the American Express Championship here, you came within a photographer's camera click for the first time in your career of playing 72 holes without a bogey. You were at that time the US Open champion. You were very much at that time the world No. 1. Not even Seve Ballesteros would have disputed it. However, what made you feel you needed to change your game after that? Why have you changed your game?
TIGER WOODS: Well, it's the same back in '97. I won the Masters, and I won the Byron Nelson, then I won the Western mid summer. I said I wasn't right. I felt like my game wasn't going to be at the level I felt I could be at, so I decided to change it. Everyone thought I was crazy for doing that. You know, lo and behold, back in '99, my game came together, it clicked together, and I had a great run. I feel like I can take it to another level.
Q. What precisely are you doing to change it? Is it true you're working with Hank Cheyne in an effort to achieve that?
TIGER WOODS: I have worked with Hank a little bit. I've asked him a few questions here and there. Mainly I'm just trying to get my game more consistent. I'm not going to tell you what I'm working on because then I'll be analyzed and picked to death about it. I'm just going to tell you the things I'm working on are starting to come together and I'm very excited about it.
Q. Given the scoring that there was the last time, you were 25-under, other players were a lot under par, are there any ways in which you expect the course might be toughened up a little bit this time?
TIGER WOODS: I don't know. I think the way the golf course was set up, it was set up extremely fair. The rough wasn't all that deep, but the pins were difficult. Great equalizer. The greens were so perfect. No putt bounced off line. If you hit a putt on line, the putt was definitely going to go in the hole. If you look at most of the most of guys who played that week and played well, they're making 24, 25 putts, 26 putts per day. That wasn't out of the question. I mean, that felt like it wasn't that hard to do. The greens were so good. So I think that anytime you get greens that are that good, and they were receptive, they weren't extremely firm, so you could be aggressive, fire at the flags, you knew if you got the ball inside 10 feet, strike the ball on the right line with the right pace, you could start walking, it was going to go in.
Q. The last time you were with us down in Mount Juliet, you befriended a guy by the name of Carey. Do you remember?
TIGER WOODS: Yes.
Q. He remembers you.
TIGER WOODS: I certainly do. I remember having a great dinner with him.
Q. He remembers you because he said you gave him some golf tips. I played with him recently and he's not got any better. Having said that, he played a great game yesterday. When you're back in Kilkenny next September, is there any chance that if he gave you hurling lessons that you might take hurling as your preferred second sport?
TIGER WOODS: As far as taking hurling lessons, I would not mind taking a hurling lesson from him at all. I think it would be quite an honor. I know if I ever started playing it, I don't know where we would play it around here (laughter). Might have a difficult time. But all in all, I think it's a fantastic sport. I watched it a few times when I've been over there. I've always wanted to go to a game, and hopefully this time I can get to go to a game.
Q. You've had a lot of success on Jack Nicklaus golf courses. How would you characterize them?
TIGER WOODS: Nicklaus courses are generally favorable off the tees. It gives you plenty of room to hit the ball into the fairways. He makes it extremely difficult if you miss the greens. Generally they have deep bunkers, all the greens tend to be elevated. They have a lot of angles to the greens. They tend to run at an angle, either from right to left going away from you or left to right going away from you. Either way, they tend to be at angles so that if you get too aggressive, miss the ball, pin-high, but if you miss on the wrong side, you really get punished. That's generally how he's always perceived a golf course should be played, is that you should pick a line and hit the ball a proper distance. I think, you know, Muirfield Village is a perfect example of that. There are so many holes designed at angles that you just have to be specific where you're going to put the ball on the green.
Q. Potentially the awkward question, but given that you haven't won a stroke play since last year's American Express, any likelihood of revisiting Butch? Is that in the plans?
TIGER WOODS: No. Butch and I are not working together, and that's it.
Q. Would you be surprised by the time you get to Mount Juliet that you will lose your world No. 1 status?
TIGER WOODS: Hopefully that won't happen. Hopefully I will have played better than that, good enough to win a few tournaments along the way.
Q. With regard to Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 professional majors, how do you realistically assess your own chances of eclipsing that? I know it's something you're asked a lot now. Now after the third major of the year, how do you feel?
TIGER WOODS: Still right on pace. Actually, ahead of his pace that he was at. You know, it wasn't going to happen overnight. It wasn't going to happen in my 20s. It was going to take a long time. For Jack, it took him 23 years, 24 years to accomplish that. So it's going to take a long time. Hopefully my career is such that I'll been able to play at a high enough level for that long a period, like he did, barring injury, to have a successful career.
Q. In relation to The Ryder Cup, which takes place in close proximity to the event, Bernhard Langer received some criticism for not attending The Open Championship at Troon, I was wondering if Hal Sutton has consulted with you in relation to this year's event and how you feel the American team is shaping up at this point in time?
TIGER WOODS: Hal and I haven't really talked a whole lot about the team, because the team is still up in the air. I think there's only maybe two spots, maybe three spots, that are guaranteed so far, and the rest are still up in the air. The team is certainly -- we have experience on the team, and hopefully we can get more experience on the team. But more than anything, you just want good players, guys that are playing great. Hopefully we can assemble that kind of team.
Q. How much do players like you, all the top players playing for themselves week in, week out, look forward to playing every other year in an event which is about playing for a team and playing for their country?
TIGER WOODS: I mean, the Europeans are every other year.
Q. The team events, playing as part of a team, how special is that?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, playing on a team, you know, I played on a team in college, I got a chance to represent Stanford, we were strictly a team and we played the entire year that way. I think you certainly get more satisfaction out of winning on a team event, winning on a team. Granted, you know, sometimes it's difficult to take a loss because you may not have played up to par, you may not have played up to your standard. But if you played up to your standard and still lost, it's still difficult to take. But winning on a team is such a great feeling. I've had a chance to experience that a couple times, and it's a fantastic feeling.
Q. Have you been to Whistling Straits? If so, what do you think?
TIGER WOODS: I have not.
Q. Do you have any plans to go there?
TIGER WOODS: I can't really say anything. Yes, I will be there before The Championship starts, correct.
Q. Are you tired of people sort of picking your game to pieces or picking your swing to pieces? Must be difficult to go out and play a round of golf, then you see on television it being analyzed in one thousand degrees slow motion. Does it help you, hinder you, make you feel in any way different at all?
TIGER WOODS: More than anything, it's just frustrating because no other player has gotten criticized or critiqued quite as much as I have with my golf swing. Whether it's Ernie, Vijay, Phil, whoever is up there, you know, the top in the world, it's certainly not at the same degreee as what I've been analyzed. I have no problem with if everyone is analyzed on the same level and critiqued the same way, but it hasn't been that way.
Q. Do you intend to continue your reasonably regular private visits to Ireland for golf and fishing? Which is more important to you on those visits?
TIGER WOODS: Well, we go there to fish. Golf just happens to be a side-bar.
FINTAN DRURY: You heard it here first, golf is a side-bar for Tiger Woods.
TIGER WOODS: But it's been fantastic. Every time I get a chance to go there before The Open Championship, I haven't gone the last two years, but I certainly miss it, going up -- going out fishing with Mark and Cookie, the rest of the guys, whether it's down in Waterville, around Dublin. We've had some of the greatest times just happening out and just fishing, just basically getting away and just relaxing. I think it's certainly helped us to succeed in The Open Championships, that we've gone in with a fresh mind. We got accustomed to the time zone change as well as playing some links golf, but basically go to The Open Championship fresh. The years that I've gone there, I've really played well in The Open Championship.
Q. (Inaudible) you mentioned something about developments in new technology, the way it's been affecting the game now.
TIGER WOODS: I'm sorry, I didn't you.
Q. Is it true that you have spoken to Peter Dawson of the new technology, closing of the gap between the elite players and the rest of the players?
TIGER WOODS: I've spoken to Peter Dawson on that subject saying that we should all be playing under the same rules. We shouldn't have the auspices of the R and A, and the USGA being conflicted. We shouldn't have amateur golf and professional golf being under two different scenarios, two different rules. I think it would be great for all of golf to be played under the same umbrella, the same rules. That's why we changed from the small ball to the same uniform size golf ball. I think we should all be playing under the same rules, not just under different auspices depending on where you are around the world.
Q. In that context, would you be prepared to play with a tournament ball, a designated tournament ball, that would be official for each event?
TIGER WOODS: What do you mean by "tournament ball"? Do you mean by the same spin rate, same launch angle, hover, same speed of core?
Q. I mean a uniform golf ball that would be the same for everybody.
TIGER WOODS: So everybody plays with the same spinning golf ball?
Q. Same golf ball.
TIGER WOODS: Same exact golf ball?
Q. Same golf ball.
TIGER WOODS: I don't think that would be right because there's too many guys have different games and different type of swings. But I think you should put a limit on the speed of a golf ball, the spin rate of a golf ball. You can increase the spin of the golf ball and make it so that we don't hit the ball as far. You can decrease the speed of the core. There's different ways you can get around it so that we're all playing under certain speed limits. Hopefully that will be the answer to a lot of the problems that we're having with golf course design around the world.
Q. Over the last couple years, going back to Rich Beem, we've seen four what you might term "surprise winners" of major championships. As someone who has won so many majors yourself, do you see that as something coincidental or is it something reflective of a whole different nature of the top of the professional game now?
TIGER WOODS: I think it's very reflective. I think it's how deep golf is becoming. Golf is becoming so much deeper than it ever used to be. It's not just about 10 or 15 guys that have a chance to win a major championship anymore. It's anyone who enters the field has an opportunity because these guys are so much better. Their technique is better. Their strength is better. The equipment is better. It has made it so that guys are shooting lower scores. Hey, the guys are, quite frankly, just better players now as a whole. If you go from No. 1 to 156 in any given field, you're going to see there isn't too much disparity between 1 and 156. And I think that's just reflective of how the game has changed, become deeper. And I think it's become more competitive because of that.
Q. You might have heard Darren Clark and Padraig Harrington have had their problems with caddies of late. Is your relationship with Steve still (inaudible)?
TIGER WOODS: Oh, yeah. Stevie is the greatest. He's a great caddie. But on top of that, he's one of my best friends.
FINTAN DRURY: Tiger, you can't see it, but the press here beside me can see the Gene Sarazen cup on the podium here. While I think everybody in Ireland would dearly love to see in October next Darren Clark or Padraig Harrington holding up the trophy at the World Golf Championships, if neither of those Irishmen are successful, I think we would be delighted to see you achieve the hat trick of championships. Thank you very much for joining us and for your courtesy in sport.
TIGER WOODS: Thank you so much.
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