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May 31, 2005

Tiger Woods


Q. How do you find the course?

TIGER WOODS: Perfect shape, as always. One thing I saw was that the greens were a little bit slower this year, not slower but softer, so technically they're all a little bit slower because they are softer, but other than that, it's in absolute perfect shape again.

Q. Any different emotions, and if so, how so coming off of Byron Nelson coming into this week?

TIGER WOODS: Zero, absolutely zero. I'm here to try and get ready to win this tournament, and hopefully come out of this week positively so I'll be in good standing going into the U.S. Open.

Q. You're not going to play next week I assume?

TIGER WOODS: I'll go home and practice.

Q. Why does this tournament have the list of winners that it's had? They talk about it identifying the best player. What in your mind is the reason?

TIGER WOODS: I think this golf course brings out you have to hit every single golf shot. On top of the swirling winds that usually happen here each and every year, quality ball strikers seem to win here. You look down that list, you can't really say that that guy was a chop ball striker, you know. Each one of them is of quality.

I think that's one of the reasons. And plus, also, this golf course you have to manage your game so well, and the majority of the winners who have come through here are major championship winners.

Q. Is this a good prep for the Open or is it just apples and oranges, too different?

TIGER WOODS: Apples and oranges, compared to this U.S. Open. But with Pinehurst being so different, it's like saying Congressional is a U.S. Open site, but it's so different from how this U.S. Open is going to play.

Still, this golf course is one of the best Tour stops we have all year round. All the guys look forward to playing here each and every year.

Q. How are you expecting the U.S. Open to play this year after all the controversy about the setup last year?

TIGER WOODS: From what I've heard so far, they've had some bad growing conditions up there. There's no rough. So that being the case, it's not going to be a chop out rough, but it'll be rough where you can catch some fliers, catch some heaters, and the worst place you can miss on those greens is over. That right there will be the difference this year than it was last time. Last time if you missed in the rough, you had to do some serious work to get it to the green. This year I think we can get it to the green but we can't get it to hold.

Q. Maybe they'll put some water this year?

TIGER WOODS: Keep it fair, keep it playable.

Q. What have you been doing since the Nelson?

TIGER WOODS: I took it easy the first week because I had to get ready for my concert I was hosting in Vegas, so I had a lot of responsibilities for that, but in the meantime I was practicing when I wasn't doing that.

And then this past week I was getting ready.

Q. About two weeks out from the Open, tell us what you're working on.

TIGER WOODS: Things I've been working on since Augusta are starting to come together, and hopefully they'll come together this week.

Q. What do you miss about Payne not being on the Tour?

TIGER WOODS: Practical jokes and his needling. Whether it might be shaving cream in our shoes he didn't do that to me, but he did it to some other guys. I was away from his locker. Being Woods, I wasn't right next to him, so I was lucky in that regard.

Q. How about this hole behind you in particular, how much different is 10, the tee being back?

TIGER WOODS: I found it easier for me today because I could hit driver and not worry about the ball running through the fairway because every year I hit it in that same tree. I hit it down the right side thinking, "oh, yeah, this is a good shot," ends up underneath the tree and I've got no shot. This year I hit it up the right side, just ran it through and had a shot, so that was nice.

Q. Have you reached the plateau where it kicks forward?

TIGER WOODS: I can. Well, when I played it was downwind. Right now it's into the wind, switched. When I played it was a little bit downwind, and if I hugged it down the left side I could get it down there pretty good, but if I bailed it out to the right side like I did, I don't have to worry about running into the trees like I used to.

Q. Is it better off with a battle all the time for the top spot rather than 1 up there all the time?

TIGER WOODS: I don't know, you've got to ask the other guys that question.

Q. What do you think?

TIGER WOODS: I like the way it was before (laughter). I was winning a lot, so you can never be mad if you're winning a lot.

Q. On the flipside, the young guys like Kevin Na, guys like that coming out, how is it different for them from the time you were coming out?

TIGER WOODS: Well, each and every generation it gets harder because the fields get deeper and the quality of players and the equipment being a little more forgiving, it brings everybody together a little bit more. You know, when I came out on Tour, I beat Davis Love in a playoff in Vegas. He was using a persimmon driver. I don't feel like I'm that old, but that's where it was back then. The guys were still using persimmon. Now everybody has gone to 45 inches, the biggest head they can possibly fine, the hottest ball and trying to bomb it out there, so it's changed.

Q. Have you talked to Jack since he made the announcement about playing, this being maybe his last Memorial and then the British Open since you've been here this week?

TIGER WOODS: Yeah, I talked to him this morning on the putting green about it. His health hasn't been good enough to get prepared, which I can understand. If you're not prepared, how can you put in your best effort to play and win a golf tournament? He's not physically able to go out there and hit a bunch of golf balls and get his game right so that he can go ahead and give it his best effort to win a golf tournament.

Q. Having that conversation, and you've followed his career, when you hear him say that to you in person, does it hit home a little bit more, especially when you can talk to him here at Muirfield?

TIGER WOODS: No, we've talked about it before in the past. We talked about it back in 2000 when we played together in the PGA, his last PGA. He was saying, "Why am I even here?" I said, "Jack, come on, you're out here competing, I'm trying to beat your brains in, you're trying to beat my brains in, so don't give me any of that." He's a competitor, and being such a great competitor, it must be hard for him not to be prepared.

I know from my own experiences, I don't know how I could ever play the game if I'm not prepared to win. It must be hard for him, and I can understand why he's bowing out now.

Q. Your game, where does it stand compared to Augusta?

TIGER WOODS: I feel more excited now because I've had some really positive things happen since Augusta, even though it didn't show it at the Nelson. The things I was working on post Augusta are really starting to come together now, so it's very exciting.

Q. Full swing type of things?

TIGER WOODS: Yes, full swing.

Q. You've been pretty fair at closing the deal over the years. What's your approach when you're coming down the stretch? Is there a mental stay in the moment, that type of thing?

TIGER WOODS: You just try and place the golf ball where you need to place it. That's about it. It's as simple as it's very simple but hard to do. You have so many other variables and so many other distractions kind of tugging at you, but it comes right down to just placement. You place the ball where you have to put it, and then from there put it again in another spot and so forth and so on. We always say that, but it's so hard to do down the stretch because your mind is racing, you're looking at the board, you hear roars, the variables of the wind, all the different things that can deter you from trying to do that, but it's a focus on placement.

Q. You're able to get your home course at Isleworth as close to Augusta as you can. I mean, you can't replicate Augusta but I know that they can get the greens awfully quick and they try to get you guys prepared. How difficult is it to prepare for Pinehurst, which is such a unique sort of setup it's hard to replicate it anywhere?

TIGER WOODS: It really is. We have probably a couple holes, probably three holes where we can chip a lot, and same kind of slopes, but the only difference is it's not going to be as closely mown as what it will be at Pinehurst. You have to do more of your preparation once you get there, play your practice rounds, take more time around the greens, get a feel for what you've got to do and make up in your mind what clubs you're going to use.

That's the hard part. You have so many different options, like a British Open. You can use sand wedge to 3 wood, any club in between. That's the way it is.

Q. How much more a mind game is preparing and playing the Open than other weeks, and can you train yourself to do that the way you work with your swing?

TIGER WOODS: You can. You have to understand that you're going to have to hit the ball really well. You can't hit it mediocre and win a U.S. Open. You have to hit it with some quality. The conditions are going to be very, very difficult, and the USGA with their pin locations over the years has been getting a little bit more difficult. They're starting to stick them a little closer to the edges.

At Pinehurst you can putt off the green 50 yards and not feel like you hit a bad putt. Pinehurst is so different than any other U.S. Open because it so much more relies on short game than pure ball striking.

Q. What do you remember about how you played at Pinehurst?

TIGER WOODS: I felt like I played really well. It was the first time I actually played really well in a U.S. Open for all four days. I hadn't done it as an amateur, I didn't do it my first two years as a professional, and then I finally did it there.

Q. You were in the midst then of really bringing your swing to where it was coming from '99 and through that streak of 2000. Is there any correlation in the process of then and now?

TIGER WOODS: I'm much further along now than I was then. I had won in Germany and I won here going into the U.S. Open, so I had won a couple tournaments, but I didn't win The Masters, either.

Q. It seemed like last year you were having trouble taking the game from the range to the golf course. Are you still having issues with that at all?

TIGER WOODS: It's a lot easier now, no doubt about it. It's just becoming more sound. The swing is more sound, more reliable, day in and day out, and last year I had just an enormous checklist I had to go through just to hit one golf shot. Now I can just kind of pick out a shot and go in and hit it, and consequently my scores this entire year have been so much better.

Q. Are there still times that what you've got at home or out there on the range doesn't always come out?

TIGER WOODS: Oh, yeah. I mean, I was like that back in my best years. That's golf unfortunately. You can play nine holes shooting 30 and back nine you can shoot 40. That's just the way it is.

Q. What's the difference in the frequency last year to this year?

TIGER WOODS: Very rare now.

Q. So Payne never nailed you with any practical jokes?

TIGER WOODS: We'd just needle each other all the time about things.

Q. Where were you when he made the putt in '99?

TIGER WOODS: I was right behind the green. Was it a cart barn back there, kind of where the carts are? I was standing right there. I could see him hit the putt, but there was nobody behind the green, so I saw him hit the putt, and then as soon as he took a step, I knew it was in. At least that made me feel a lot better, him making the putt, or else I would have been one shot out of a playoff after I just bogeyed 17.

Q. In addition to working on your swing, mentally changing from a prodigy to a veteran to a guy that's a focal point out here, has that been hard for you to sort of mentally make that adjustment, from being "the next big thing" to being "the thing"?

TIGER WOODS: No, it's been something I've had the attention for a long time on me in the media, so I've kind of grown up with it. Granted, it's escalated, but at least I've been prepared for it. The only time it was really a big shock to me was in '96 when I first turned pro. I didn't quite understand how to handle all that, and I made my share of mistakes, no doubt about that. I didn't handle things the way I probably should have most of the time, but I learned.

You know, you go through your ups and downs, take your bumps and your bruises, but you live and you learn. There's no course at Stanford to prepare you for that. I wish there was; I would have taken it.

Q. Do you play better as a result of mental maturing?

TIGER WOODS: Whatever you have to deal with inside the ropes, you deal with it, and that's just playing golf, putting your ball where you need to put it.

Once you go outside the ropes, it's understanding your responsibilities, and that's something I didn't quite understand at the time because I was such a new I was so new to the game out here, and I was a young professional who had no status on any Tour, so yeah, you wanted to talk to me, but why would you want to talk to me? I had no status; I had nothing. I had a good amateur career but I had nothing as a professional. I hadn't done anything in eight Tour events. I had to understand that part of it.

Q. There used to be a theory that taller golfers were at a disadvantage in the past. Did you ever subscribe to that notion? You look at the World Rankings, obviously you, Vijay, Phil, 6'3", 6'4", did you buy that, that shorter golfers had an advantage?

TIGER WOODS: No, shorter golfers may hit it straighter but they sure can't hit it further. We have a longer lever, longer arms, and you can create a wider, bigger arc. That's just physics. It'll be scary when somebody is really athletic playing the game at 6'5", 6'6".

Q. Can more go wrong at 6'5", 6'6", also?

TIGER WOODS: No doubt. The further you hit it, the more that can go wrong, that's the thing. Our average distance on Tour, I was leading the Tour when I first came out like at 295. Now I'm at 305 and I'm barely in the top five or six. I've increased my distance by ten yards and I've fallen in spots. You can hit it further, but your fairway accuracy is going to go down, and if you look at what the Tour has done since I've been on Tour, the last nine years, they've shrunk the fairways down and pinched them in, brought more bunkers into play just to try and counteract us hitting driver and bombing over everything. Yeah, your margin of error is smaller now.

Q. Ty is a short guy. How did he hit it today?

TIGER WOODS: Good. He's strong as hell. I've known Ty since my days at college. I've talked to him about how his whole life is and how it's going, and any time he needs me, I'm always there for him.

End of FastScripts.

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