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May 8, 2018

Tiger Woods

Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida

CHRIS REIMER: We want to welcome our two-time PLAYERS champion Tiger Woods here to the media center. Tiger, great to have you back at TPC Sawgrass. If you could, just some opening comments about being here and maybe little thoughts on your Thursday-Friday pairing.

TIGER WOODS: Yeah, I'm excited to be back playing. I haven't played here in a little bit now, and excited to come back and play, take a look at the golf course, see how it's playing. I haven't seen the new changes yet, so looking forward to seeing a few of those little tweaks, and just looking forward to playing in THE PLAYERS Championship again.

Q. Phil was in here talking about how if you were not there in 2000 and 2001, you could never appreciate the level of golf that you were playing then. Is it fun or do you allow yourself to ever go back there, or can you just not do that when you're still trying to win out here this week?
TIGER WOODS: Oh, no, I certainly go back and take a look at those moments. That was a pretty good run back then. You know, I had all four major championships, I had THE PLAYERS, I had two World Golf Championships, and all the biggest events I had won at the same time. To hold all those events concurrently was special. I mean, I played well, I thought well, I putted well. I did everything well for, I guess, a few years there. My level of play then was something that in hindsight looking back on it was pretty high, and not only pretty high, but I held it for a long period of time. It wasn't just for one week.

Q. This is kind of linked, but at venues such as this where you've had success in the past, has the time between then and when you're still playing gets longer, can you legitimately draw upon those successes from, for example, here five years ago, or do you have to create a new mental picture to try and see it again, if that makes sense?
TIGER WOODS: No, no, it was 12 years between wins here, and so as y'all know, just looking at my record, I didn't play this place well. I struggled with it. You have to play well here. There's no way of faking it around this golf course. You have to hit the golf ball well. You hit the ball well here, you're in correct spots, and you can make birdies, and I didn't do that. This golf course negates a lot of different things. We're all playing from basically the same spots off the tees with our approach shots, and that week in 2013, Joey kept hounding me in my ear about the fact that this golf course suits me and you're going to win here. I mean, he's been on Fred's bag twice when he won here, and so he kept saying, kept holding it over my head that Fred has got two wins here and you don't. I fixed it that week.

Q. You obviously are very close with Jason Day and you saw him win five times in 2015, he's already won twice this year. What do you think he's capable of, and could he be better than in 2015, Jason Day?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I think that -- 2015, first of all, I mean, he hit the ball unbelievably well. We all know what kind of short game he has. He can get up-and-down from a trash can. But that was one of those special years where he hit the ball well. He has two wins here this year, not quite as well, but that's learning how to win. I've won out here numerous times not playing well but found a way to score and get the job done. And that's what he's doing.

But you also have to give him a break. Come on, what he went through last year and what Ellie and him went through, that's hard, with his mother and with Ellie. Those are really, really tough circumstances. There's no wonder he struggled and didn't play well, his mind wasn't committed to it. But now that he's fighting through it and he's now on the upward tick, you can see that he's able to put the time in, and when he puts the time into it and he's devoted, he knows he can get to No. 1 player in the world. He's already done it, and there's no reason why he can't do it again.

Q. Brandel Chamblee has certainly been a polarizing analyst on the air for several years --

Q. You and several players have certainly had your disagreements with him. But do you feel that he does make golf interesting for TV viewers even if you disagree with the premise of what he says?
TIGER WOODS: For people who play -- who don't play the game? Yes.

Q. And for those that do?
TIGER WOODS: Mm-hmm. (Laughter.)

Q. How do you look at a pairing with Phil now versus say 15 years ago, and how has that dynamic maybe changed for you guys?
TIGER WOODS: Well, first off, you know, we don't -- geez, we don't really get paired together. Normally for most of our careers we were 1 and 2 in the world, and we're on opposite sides of the draw with exact tee times on the opposite side. We never saw each other, and that's what the TOUR wanted. They wanted to get fans in here on Thursday and then on Friday, so they had one of us in the afternoon either day. But never concurrently together.

Towards the beginning part where my back got bad, we started getting on the same side of the draw but not in the same groupings. We were on opposite tees.

But now we're both later in our careers. It's fun for -- it's fun for me to be able to have an opportunity to play with Phil the first two days. We don't really do this very often, unfortunately. I mean, the only time I can remember I think is the PGA and the U.S. Open in '08. Otherwise it just doesn't really happen. And for me to be able to play with a person I've gone against for over two decades, it's a lot of fun.

Q. Is it fun because you enjoy watching him play and learning things or noticing things or being able to find things that you might be able to needle him about?
TIGER WOODS: The latter for sure. (Laughter.)

Phil and I have a great banter. We give each other needle. We always have. But I think our relationship has certainly gotten a lot closer with me being a vice captain the last couple teams and sitting there and having very lengthy conversations with him about things, not just the pairings but just about things in general. You know, when I was trying to deal with the nerve in my back and trying to come back and trying to play and I wasn't very good, he always texted me some very encouraging words, and then on top of that, when you guys all saw how I was chipping so poorly, my nerve and my back was not doing very good, and I was flinching a lot, and he offered numerous times to help me out with technique and just talk about it and philosophy, and I said, yeah, you know, you and I have the same philosophy in how we approach chipping and how we do it. I just can't physically do it.

But now it's different. I feel better, and my short game has turned around.

Q. Just on the golf course, you said where everybody is generally playing from the same areas, do you see that as a design positive or a design flaw?
TIGER WOODS: No, no, it's what Pete likes to do. Pete likes to, one, try and intimidate you visually, and then tries to really punish you for making a mistake. And this golf course, there's only a few holes in which you can be aggressive off the tee length-wise and have an advantage, and there are a couple of the par-5s, maybe 14, as well. But generally we're all kind of playing from the same spot, and that just opens up the field, and that's one of the reasons why we've seen guys who hit the ball long like Davis Love has over the years, or you have a shorter hitter like Fred Funk winning. So many guys have a chance to win here, and that's what makes this championship so difficult to win is that it's open to a lot of players.

Q. First off, the Phil thing, Phil when he was in here earlier said, lately he's been getting the better of you and jokingly said, well, maybe Tiger doesn't want a piece of me nowadays. I want to know for you, how important is it for you to go ahead and put it on him the next two days?
TIGER WOODS: Well, first of all, big picture. (Laughter.)

Q. Overall, you're only one up on him, though, head-to-head.
TIGER WOODS: How many times have we both --

Q. 32 --
TIGER WOODS: No, no, have we won on TOUR?

No, no, as I said, it's going to be fun playing with him again. We have both done this throughout our careers. We have always looked at each other and said, where is he on the board. That's what Arnold and Jack used to do all the time. They'd always try and find, okay, what's -- what's Jack at. And the same thing with Jack, where's Arnie at. It's been either way for our entire careers.

Now that we have an opportunity to play against each other again on the first day when the gun blows, it's going to be fun. I enjoy either competing with him on the first or second day or if it's the last day. It's always been a blast, and he's one hell of a competitor, and it's always going to be a challenge to try and beat him.

Q. And Jason Day was talking about how much he wants to get back to world No. 1, and I'm curious for you being where you are in your life, if you had to choose between winning golf tournaments or getting back to being world No. 1, which would be more important to you?
TIGER WOODS: Oh, winning golf tournaments because you win enough tournaments, you become world No. 1, and then how do you stay world No. 1? You win more golf tournaments. And it's not a real complicated formula. You know, guys who win five times a year, they're going to get to No. 1 in the world. Most of my career I've won five events a year, and so that's how I was able to stay there for as long as I was. Winning will just take care of that part of the World Rankings.

Q. This is a public golf course right here, and there's an availability of public golf courses and the benefit of that for young ones, and also can you talk about that and talk about your decision to open your own public golf course and the decision of designing and going into that venture?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I think that public golf courses are -- unfortunately it was a dying breed. There are more Country Clubs that were built. But we know that model is not sustainable. The growth in our country golf-wise has certainly slowed down quite a bit, and public access is something that we're trying to foster for more youth participation. And then on top of that, you just want some type of sustainability. Once you introduce kids to the game, how are you able to keep them around? Public facilities like this or First Tee facilities around the country or just public golf courses in general are paramount to our growth in our sport.

I grew up on public golf courses. My first golf course I was a member at was a par-3 course that was 18 holes and had lights on it, and most of the people drank as much as they played holes. And so that's how my introduction to the game was, but I was able to play, and it was against all different ages. That's one of the things that we're struggling with right now in the game of golf.

Q. And your decision to venture into the golf course designing, working on to --
TIGER WOODS: Well, I'm trying to design more public golf courses. I'm not doing a whole lot of golf courses right now, I'm doing a few here and there, because my focus is still playing, and when my focus is no longer about playing, then yeah, I may do more courses. But right now, I'm just trying to do quality venues and work with great people.

Q. This is a little bit away from this week, but looking back at the '08 Open when you won at Torrey, what are the most meaningful moments for you as you recall that win?
TIGER WOODS: Well, it -- I don't know how I did it, first of all. My ACL was gone. My leg was broken. It didn't feel very good. You know, when I finished the rounds, it was not fun to try and get my leg drained so I could play the next day. But these are all things I tried to do because I knew that was going to be my last event. I was going to have to have reconstruction on my ACL, so I was down for nine months, possibly 12. So I put all my energy into winning one event and somehow pulled it off.

Q. Just as a follow, obviously there was uncertainty when you walked off that golf course because you were going to be out for a year or so, but when you look back now 10 years later, if we had told you now that you wouldn't have won a major, would it have surprised you to this point?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, there's no doubt. My game was pretty good then. I had put myself in contention to win numerous majors since then, and haven't got it done. You know, I've had my chances and for some reason just either have not hit the ball well enough or haven't putted well enough or haven't put the two together. There was always some missing piece. And consequently I've gone 0-for since then.

Q. Of all the pairings with Phil, I would think one of the more significant ones was final group of the Masters in '01 when you were going for four in a row. I'm curious what your recollections were of the pairing, especially against a guy who I think at that time had already stopped a couple of your winning streaks and other streaks.
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, I mean, I think he won at San Diego I think it was. So yeah, Phil and I were -- we were battling for the spot of 1 and 2 in the world and we were going at it, and I had won a few majors the year before. It's nine months between majors, between the PGA and Augusta, so a lot can happen. I somehow put it together.

Q. A couple weeks after Justin Thomas won the PGA, he said, I know this sounds silly, but I got as much of a thrill out of Tiger calling me and having dinner with me as I did winning. What does that mean to you?
TIGER WOODS: Oh, we had a blast. J.T. has become one of my friends, and he gives me crap all the time that -- he was on his dad's shoulders when I won at Valhalla. I'm like, are you serious? But I know I've -- I was out of the game, unfortunately, when he came into the game, came into the scene out here, so I kind of missed it a little bit. But I got a chance to know him by him coming over to the house, going out to dinners, just hanging out, and he's just a great kid. His mom and dad are fantastic, and just to have dinner with him to celebrate, and for him to kind of run through the scenarios, the holes, the shots, and I was watching, so I could ask decent questions, but even so, it would be much better to have been on the golf course and seen it and feel it, so he was trying to describe it to me, some of the shots and some of the things that he was trying to do. That's very special when you're able to do that, and for him to share with mom and dad like that I think was probably even more special.

Q. What do you make of so many first-time major winners? I think nine of the last ten majors were won by a guy who hadn't won a major before.
TIGER WOODS: You know, I think we had a stretch like that. It was after Paddy won his two, we went for a long stretch there, somewhere around 15 or so, I don't remember what the exact number was, first-time winners in major championships, and I think we're kind of getting that now. But it's a different generation of guys that are winning, so it's guys in their 20s right now. The last four have been. And so it's just the turnover rate of what happens.

Q. Has your success early this season done anything to change your metrics for what makes a successful week?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, yeah, it does. I didn't know what to expect this year. I didn't know if I would even be able to play the TOUR consistently or I'd be relegated to just hanging on the sidelines and watching from TV or maybe just playing one tournament a quarter or something like that. I had no idea what to expect.

So this is all new to me. This is all exciting because I just didn't know what to expect. To sit here, I know that it's been about a year, but to sit here 12 months ago and you would have said, yeah, you're going to be playing THE PLAYERS Championship and you're going to have had a chance to win a couple of events this year, I would have said, you've got to be kidding me; I can barely walk. I wouldn't say it's gravy, but it's unbelievable, and I'm just so thankful to be able to have this opportunity again because I didn't know if I would ever have had. Trust me, I'm fully aware of how special this is for me.

Q. A couple of days removed from it now from Charlotte, but you just try to put the putting woes behind you, or is there something you feel you need to work on or will work on in the next couple of days?
TIGER WOODS: No, I'll do some work. I need to get the pace of these greens here. I'll do some work today and do a little bit more legwork again tomorrow. But today is more so just getting the feel of the golf course and see how it's playing. I haven't played here in a few years, so I want to see some of the changes, but also just get my touch. And I'll do some more -- I did some drills yesterday just to make sure everything was A-okay and everything was fine. But I'll do probably more legwork tomorrow on my putting than I will today.

Q. During your last pass through Florida, Bay Hill, Tampa, you were right on the cusp it looked like. What's been a little different these last couple of starts, and how close are you, do you think?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, you know, I didn't -- as I was telling you guys before, I didn't hit the irons very good at Augusta. I kept leaving myself above the hole in places where I just couldn't miss the ball. I felt like I was putting defensively for the entire week, and I could never get the ball in the correct spots. That was frustrating. And then last week, I just didn't make anything. Geez, I hit -- one of the days I hit a bunch of greens, like 15 greens, and still I turned a 63 or 64 into 68. I just didn't have a feel for the golf course, and I just didn't make the adjustments.

Q. Why and when did you develop the stinger shot, and what makes that so effective for you?
TIGER WOODS: I started hitting it low a long time ago. This is back when I had the old -- I stole my dad's beryllium copper Ping Eye2, 1-iron, and he couldn't hit it any ways. He had no speed, so he couldn't hit it in the air. I said, I'll take it off your hands. So I used it for a number of years. I'm brilliant; the longer the ball stays in the air, the longer time it has to go crooked, so get that thing on the ground. So I started chipping and hitting these low 1-irons, and it worked out. And then eventually it started to basically cross over into other parts of my game. I started learning how to hit the ball flat with all my clubs. Because when I was younger, I grew up on kikuyu grass out there in So Cal, and you can't ever roll the ball up, so you had to throw it straight up in the air, so when I was younger I hit the ball straight up, full release as high as I could, and I had to learn to bring it down. That 1-iron was probably the start of learning how to hit the ball down, and plus we had balata balls back then, so learning how to take spin off of it was a big thing.

Q. Just going back to Phil, he was effectively saying, never mind Thursday and Friday, what he'd really like would be a high-stakes winner take all contest with you. How would you feel about that?
TIGER WOODS: I'm definitely not against that. We'll play for whatever makes him uncomfortable.

Q. And what would that be?
TIGER WOODS: We'll find out.

Q. As one of the greats in sports or you've achieved greatness in sport, how much do you appreciate others in other sports that are great, and how much do you relate, and I'm thinking LeBron James, what he's doing right now, do you know those clutch moments that you've had and relate it to other sports like him?
TIGER WOODS: Well, I think that -- first of all, I think that being great is doing something that no one can do, but also what separates those people, the ones you mentioned like LeBron or like what I'm thinking with M.J. or Gretzky, it's just the duration, being able to do it not just for one year or one game or a little spell, they're able to do it for a number of years, and accumulate highlights that we will always look at. They're peppered in our memories.

You know, to dominate something is one thing. Every player out here can have one good week and blow away the field. Okay, great. Now can you do it for a month, can you do it for a year, now do it for a decade, do it for a decade plus. And then you start separating what is truly great.

In our sport, there's been a few guys who have had runs where they've lasted for well over a decade, into two, and that's what separates greatness. And what LeBron has done for, what, 15 seasons now is just remarkable because it's that type of longevity, and to be able to be up for that long a period of time, and to be able to adjust, as well, because we all know as we age that we're not going to be as athletic as we used to be, and so we have to do it different ways. And to be fluid and adjust and still be that talented and that good, and hats off to not just LeBron but the people I just named.

Q. Are you going to be wearing the Nike pink on Thursday?
TIGER WOODS: Whatever the Masters champion is wearing I will wear, I will copy.

Q. You've played this year with guys like Sam Burns and Brandon Harkins off the Web.com TOUR and younger, and a lot of these guys are ready and able to win and contend. What do you think it says about that Tour and being able to foster these guys to come to the PGA TOUR level and step up and succeed?
TIGER WOODS: Yeah, you know what, there's a big difference from guys who would come out of college and go to Q-school and make it and get their card, go through either three stages or sometimes even two, whatever it may be. That's a different challenge than it is actually going through a whole year and a whole season, and I think that going through a whole season hardens the guys and teaches them how -- well, one, the new lifestyle of traveling, what is so different than college, and doing it for a year-long period. And that Tour in itself, you have to be so aggressive. It's set up for birdies. You know, one of the things that Brandon and I were talking about on Sunday was he had a philosophy going into the year, and that was to be as aggressive -- play as aggressively as he possibly could on every tee shot. If it was between driver and 3-wood, hit driver. Just trying to be as aggressive and trying to make as many birdies as possible, and that's how he played the whole year, which is very different than sometimes on some events out here where you have to grind it out and try and make pars. That Tour is catered to birdies.

I think it teaches the guys how to be more aggressive, and when they come out here and they have to play our TOUR, then all of a sudden they're ready to make birdies. They're ready to play aggressively and take on flags and take on the challenges, and it sets them up for, I think, a higher success rate than it is just going through Q-school and getting out here on TOUR.

Q. Back to LeBron and M.J., a lot of discussion about who was the GOAT. What's your take?
TIGER WOODS: Well, first of all, when I was growing up, goat was a bad thing, right?

Q. It's changed.
TIGER WOODS: It has changed, and they're both great in different ways. I think that if you look at M.J. he was a prolific scorer and played defense like no other, was always first-team all-defense. But LeBron is different. He's like a hybrid of M.J. and Magic, which is so different, because he's bringing the ball up a lot. M.J. never really did that. I mean, he had Pip as a point forward a lot of times, and you would think that was kind of LeBron-ish, but they're very different in how they help both teams. You know, I think what M.J. did getting to the Finals and dominating the league like he did, he did it in a different way than LeBron is doing it, just because of the nature of their body, the build and their game and their mental makeup. But at the end of the day, they both win, and they're both guys that we look at and say, it's unbelievable what they're doing, and they're just changing the game, the game how it's played. We didn't know it could be played that way, and they both have done it.

CHRIS REIMER: Tiger, thank you, good luck this week.

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