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April 5, 2005

Tiger Woods


SCOTT FORD: Good afternoon, my name is Scott Ford. They thought it would be fun to let my first interview be with Tiger Woods, so rather than read all of the information they gave me, I'd like to introduce the man who needs no introduction, Mr. Tiger Woods.

Did you want to start by making a few comments?

TIGER WOODS: Perfect, thank you. I played, let's see, nine holes yesterday, the front nine, and I played 18 today. The golf course, as always, is in beautiful shape. The greens are probably faster than we've seen them this early in the week. Mark and I were talking about that today and we couldn't remember it being like this, unless maybe it was '99, when it was pretty fast the entire week.

The golf course is going to be, again, a great challenge, and we'll see what happens.

SCOTT FORD: We'll take a few questions then.

Q. Particularly given the attention your new ball seems to have gotten lately, there's been talk about making a uniform ball for the Masters that everybody would have to play. Do you have a position on that?

TIGER WOODS: I wouldn't like for us to do that, one uniform ball. If they want to pull the golf balls back, that's fine. But everybody has different spin rates, different launch conditions, and if you did that, I think it would be detrimental to a bunch of guys. Who do you go after, the guys who spin the ball a lot or the guys that don't spin the ball a lot or the guys that launch the ball low or the guys that launch the ball high; where do you go?

Q. What would you think should be done differently?

TIGER WOODS: I think just pull the ball speed back, whatever speed they would like to see launched at a certain speed, clubhead speed, they need to pull it back.

Q. Jack is playing. Just wonder if you could tell us if you had a chance to speak to Jack at all and just relate the kind of respect that you have for Jack?

TIGER WOODS: Yeah, I just had lunch with him (laughter). So, yes, I just saw the guy.

Yeah, we just had lunch. We talked about a few things. It quickly changed to a conversation with Mark and Jack talking about all of the great fly fishing places they have been all around the world, so I listened to those guys just talk about all of the places they have gone and the fishes they have hooked and then landed.

Q. Given what he's gone through, I know you have very warm feelings for Jack --

TIGER WOODS: For him to go through this, I think this is more -- probably more of a family thing, just at least get everybody's mind off of it. Steve is obviously going through some pretty hard times right now, and the whole family is coming up for the week, so it will be a very touching moment for the entire family, just to at least get their mind off of it for a little bit.

Q. Jack was saying how he still feels that you're the dominant player and that when you're at the top of your game, there's no stopping you; that you can win, running away. Do you feel that confident in your game, as well, that when you're at the top of your game there's no stopping you?

TIGER WOODS: When I'm playing well, I like my chances.

Q. Just to follow on from that, after Doral, obviously, things were looking really good for you, and a couple of bad, well, not so great tournaments, Bay Hill and TPC. What happened there and how can you turn that around here?

TIGER WOODS: Well, I decided to work on some things that I've still been working on. At Doral I hit the ball well but I didn't hit it the way that I know I can. So I still had to continue to work on the things, and I just didn't quite play that well at Bay Hill and TPC. But the things I was working on were starting to come together, and then I got to TPC and then, you know, the wind blew a little bit, so that kind of went out the door.

So this past week, stuck with the game plan, make sure that everything is ready for this week, and that's the most important thing. So gradually build into this week.

Q. Did Hank come into town and work with you and Mark a little bit last week and sort of compare and contrast your readiness this year versus your readiness last year?

TIGER WOODS: Last year I was just getting started with the changes, and this year I'm just putting up the finishing touches on the changes.

So two different scenarios. Last year I was just hoping to put myself there in contention and with a short game in putting. This year, I know that my ball-striking is there. It's in me. I've proven it to myself a number of times so far, late last fall and early this year, so I know it's in there. So that's a big difference.

Q. With regard to your most dominant stretch so far in your career, what is your theory on whether guys have caught up to you because you raised the bar and maybe they have changed their practice habits or whatever it may be, or do you feel like the changes you've made, you've maybe taken a step back or whatever word? Maybe that's not the right phraseology. Do you feel like guys have caught up to you or you've leveled off a little bit?

TIGER WOODS: Well any time you make changes in your game, it's not going to be an immediate success, and did I probably take a step back? Yeah, probably, I did in '98, too, end of '97, all of '98, and beginning of '99, almost two years where I didn't really do anything in the game of golf. But then again, once those changes kicked in, I had a pretty good run, '99 and 2000, won 17 times on our Tour.

Q. With relation to that, obviously that's kind of the cycle that you're looking to get back into.

TIGER WOODS: Yeah, that's the idea of making changes, to improve and to get better, and I think when these changes did kick in at the end of last year, it was pretty exciting for me, to go over to Japan and play great and won twice so far this year. It's still coming.

Q. When you go head-to-head with a would-be rival like Phil at Doral, do you relish that as much as we do, and how much does that change the dynamic? Does it bring out the best in you?

TIGER WOODS: Well, I think you guys get into it more than we do. Any time you have a chance to win the tournament, you're going to get fired up. It's always fun to be in the final group with a chance to win. It just so happened to be Phil that week.

At San Diego this year, it was Tom Lehman I was battling it out with. Any time you are in a final pairing it's fun, but I tell you, it's even more fun winning in that final pairing in a major championship. That's why you play, why you practice, that's why you dream as a kid, and that's why you put in all of those long hours.

Q. When you are looking your rival, in your eye does that change things from when you're in a different pairing?

TIGER WOODS: No, you're just trying to play your game, get the job done and post a number.

If you look at guys who are in the top in the World Rankings and the guys who have won major championships, you know they can handle the heat. You know they are not going to make a mistake.

So with that in mind, you may have to be a little bit more aggressive at times here and there, but playing against people that have never won a golf tournament might be a little bit different strategy involved because they have never been there before. They don't know how their emotions are going to handle it and their swing is going to handle it, their putting stroke; they don't know. So when you're going head-to-head against somebody that has proven that they can win at a high level consistently, that mindset might change a little bit of your course strategy.

Q. We all know what a difficult golf course this can be. That said, what are your thoughts on why nobody ever in the history of this tournament has put together four rounds in the 60s?

TIGER WOODS: Because it's hard (laughter).

Q. Acknowledging that it means more to the fans and us about the Big Four thing and all, but to have that many guys playing at such a high level, is that exciting for you as a golfer, somebody who has a background in golf, and also, is it good for the game to have that?

TIGER WOODS: I could care less. I'm worried about getting my ball in the hole. I'm sure if you did ask those guys the same thing, we have enough issues out there trying to get the ball in the hole.

Q. Is it good for golf to have that many guys playing at that high of a level?

TIGER WOODS: I don't know. I'm sure there's more story lines for you guys. Hey, I went through a stage when I was good for golf, when I was beating everybody, and then I was bad for golf that I was beating everybody, and now we've got the Big Four thing going, and then if we get Goose in there; I don't know.

Q. What would you enjoy more, blowing away the field and winning by ten strokes --

TIGER WOODS: Yes (laughter). We'll just leave it right there.

Q. Winning big or that --


Q. Head-to-head?

TIGER WOODS: No. I liked '97 here. I liked 2000 at Pebble. I kind of like that. That's nice.

Q. That's more fun?

TIGER WOODS: A lot more fun, 12, 15, double digits, that's nice.

Q. If you had to compare the four majors, would you say this is the biggest pressure or most difficult?

TIGER WOODS: As far as probably the back nine, yes. And overall testing of your iron play and your short game, your creativeness, your putting, yes. U.S. Open would be obviously just pure ball-striking and lob-wedge around the greens.

Q. Is it also hard to gauge because it's been eight months since you've played one?

TIGER WOODS: No, I think it's so unique because we don't play a golf course like this any other time of year. We don't play greens that are this severe. I'm sure if you added a tournament or two with greens this severe out here, you would hear a lot of guys griping about it. But because of the history that has been made here at the tournament, hey, guys don't say anything. They relish this chance.

Q. You had a pretty memorable par-3 contest last year. What are your thoughts on that tournament, and can you relay a conversation that you and Arnold had right after that hole-in-one?

TIGER WOODS: It was sweet. I played with Arnold in his last par-3 contest. I have the score card at home. He signed it, I was keeping his score, so it was pretty sweet.

You know, he just put his arm around me and said, "Nice shot," blah, blah, blah, and we started talking about all different things. It was a cool moment. Mark was there and Arnold. And I think the more special memory for me was back in '95 when I played there. I had Arnold and Jack in a practice round here on the big course, and they invite me to go over and play on the par-3 course. We get to the 9th hole and Jack and Arnold both hit it up there, almost hole their shot, and now I've got to hit. You know, back then my wedge game was, maybe, 50/50 whether I would even make contact on ground (laughter). It was more like it's going to be splash down somewhere. For me to make solid contact and get the ball on the green somewhere, and it came back and I made birdie as well, so that was more of a memorable moment for me.

Q. Would you ever miss a putt there knowing you had a chance to win, knowing the history of that tournament? You were tied last year to make a playoff.

TIGER WOODS: It was raining (laughter).

Q. You mentioned the pressure in the back nine on Sunday, and the way they set up the course, they don't mind somebody shooting a low number and giving up birdies. Is it more fun, the charge at the end of this major than in other major championships?

TIGER WOODS: Yeah, because I think you have birdie opportunities. You have two par 5s, with good drives you have iron to the green. Granted, they are difficult golf shots, but if you're in the final group or somewhere near there, you're playing pretty good and you can handle that. You can make a couple birdies there.

14, if they put the hole in the middle shelf and there's a funnel there, and that's what they have done the last couple years, you've seen a lot of birdies there, almost hole-outs. The hardest part now is just the last two holes are so much longer. It used to be kind of a given on 17, just blow it up there and it's a birdie hole. Now you've got to fit a drive down there. You can't miss it right in the trees. And 18, you've got to bring it off the tee.

Q. A little free word association. Vijay.


Q. Mm-hmm, your only response?

TIGER WOODS: He's good. (Laughter).

SCOTT FORD: Well that had potential (laughter).

Q. After all the changes you've made, are you a better golfer now than when you were dominating the majors? And if the answer is yes, how much does it bother you that has translated into a run and if the answer is no, how much does that bother you?

TIGER WOODS: The answer is no, not yet, and it's close. That's what's fun about it is that it's very similar to how I felt at the beginning of '99, and when it finally kicked in, it went off pretty good for two years.

Q. It's going to be an interesting week for Phil. What's this week like for a defending champion? What was your favorite part of the Masters week as a defending champion?

TIGER WOODS: Probably hosting the dinner. I would say that's a really cool thing for the first time. I was pretty young, and to see -- to be seated next to Byron Nelson and Gene Sarazen when he was alive, to be able to talk to him. I'll never forget my first Masters dinner; I'm over here with Mr. Nelson on my left, Ben Crenshaw on my right, and here we are with knives in our hand explaining our grips. Mr. Nelson is telling me how he changed his grip back in 1933. I'm saying, my dad was just born. He's explaining all of the different evolutions of his grip and what he believes in and how it should be handled and pressure and Crenshaw is telling one thing; uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh.

That's one of the coolest sights, coolest memories; I'll never forget that.

Q. Talked about the excitement no matter who you are playing against being in contention for a tournament and how it's magnified in a major. How restless are you to win a major again?

TIGER WOODS: You've just got to put yourself there; that's all you can do. You put yourself there enough times, you'll win.

Q. I'm wondering if you could maybe assess what the -- if the second cut of rough is negligible as far as the playing aspects of this golf course, or does it have a factor if it's wet or dry?

TIGER WOODS: No, no, it's significant, it really is.

With the greens being this firm and this fast right now, hitting a shot out of the second cut, you just take a little bit of spin off the golf ball, and spin is everything when you get the greens this hard and this fast.

It does help you on certain tee shots because now you pull a ball off the first tee, it not going to run into the pine needles anymore, but it will stop and you will have a shot.

Say on 9, you drive it down the right side where you have 9-iron, 8-iron, wedge, something like that into the green, out of the fairway normally; and now you have the first cut, trying to hold the ball on that little shelf out of the first cut, that's pretty significant.

So it has made it a little bit easier on certain tee shots, but approach shots, it makes it a lot more difficult.

Q. You mentioned a moment ago about the birdie chances on the par 5 on the back. Do you find them to be more difficult, those par 5s, than when you first came here?

TIGER WOODS: Oh, yeah.

Q. Especially 15, where you were probably hitting 9-iron --

TIGER WOODS: Wedge (laughter).

Q. Can you talk about --

TIGER WOODS: Twice (laughter). No, 15 has changed quite a bit. I used to be able to rip a driver off the right side in the big mounds on the right side and speed slot and run it right down there.

Now you can't flirt with that right side. The trees growing as dense as they are, and you have that first cut in there, you hit the ball in the trees, it's hard to even pitch out back into the fairway. You see guys pitching sideways because they can't advance it; they don't have a swing. That makes it a lot more difficult because anything -- back in the day, anything to the right, anything, you put it on the 17th fairway, you've still got a shot at the green. Now it brings those left trees into play.

Q. I wanted to ask you a question about practicing with Annika. She had a great start this season, and she gave you a lot of credit for that and talked about you guys practicing. Can you say something about that?

TIGER WOODS: Well, yeah, we worked quite a bit on just her short game and things that she felt she could improve, and I showed her a few things that I do in my short game and things that I've learned. Some of the stuff that I showed her were things that have been passed onto me from other players. It was fun to work with a person who is like a sponge, she soaks up all the information and tries it. She's not afraid to call me up on certain shots, "Hey, I tried it." That's pretty cool to have someone put it in play. She practices and then puts it in play. She's got all of the talent in the world, and she's a great person, too.

Q. You've spent time off the course as well?

TIGER WOODS: Yes, we enjoy each other's company. She just went diving with my wife and they had a great time. Unfortunately I wasn't able to go down because I was trying to get ready for this thing.

Q. But they don't speak Swedish when you're around?

TIGER WOODS: Yes, they do. I'm learning. I'm sneaking up on her (laughter).

Q. What club did you use yesterday on 9 to hole that out?

TIGER WOODS: 9, what did I use? I used a sand wedge.

Q. When tournaments get interrupted with rain delays and all that, how much harder does it come to focus and trying to peak?

TIGER WOODS: You know what, we're getting used to it, we really are. This year has been unbelievable.

I guess the hard part is when you're stuck at the golf course for seven, eight hours and there's no word. You've just got to sit there and try and find something to do for that long.

If you're at home, it's no big deal because you can call in and say, "what's the update," no big deal, and they haven't made a decision so you keep calling. But when you're at the golf course and you've been pulled off the golf course and you have to be ready to go at any given time and you know you've got to sit there for a long time, that's the hard part. A lot of guys get stiff and get bored, and I guess that's why we eat a lot.

Q. Does this golf course owe one to Ernie, or is it naive to think that way?

TIGER WOODS: You can say the same thing about Greg, too.

This golf course is very interesting because you can put yourself there. In my time that I've played here, you can say the same thing for Duval finishing close a number of times and Ernie as well.

This golf course is such that sometimes you do feel like it owes you, but in the end, if you look back, you've got to go out there and earn it.

Q. With the swing changes from last year to this year, do you have different shots that you can play?


Q. Into holes now?


Q. Examples?

TIGER WOODS: Just a ball flight. I guess -- it's hard to explain. You just have to watch my ball flight, and if you recognize my ball flight now versus how it was, you know, four or five years ago.

Q. What are the results of that ball flight? What are you able to do differently with it as far as your approaches?

TIGER WOODS: Pin-high (laughter). Hit the ball on the number you want to hit it and that's the key. That's the whole idea of controlling your trajectory is to land the ball where you want to, and that equates to pin-high.

Q. Bizarre question, you're wearing Carolina blue today. Can we read anything into that?


Q. And what would we be able to read into that?

TIGER WOODS: One word. Steiny (laughter).

Q. He made you do it?

TIGER WOODS: No, no (smiling).

Q. Along the lines of golf courses, is there any golf course that owes you one?

TIGER WOODS: No. You've got to earn it. You've got to go out and play. Whether it's courses that I've come close to winning or courses you've said I've missed cuts at, just the way it is. I just didn't play as well as I needed to play.

Q. Are you superstitious?

TIGER WOODS: Not really.

Q. Do you have any quirky things you do, lucky ball mark or something like that?

TIGER WOODS: Yeah, I do like to warm up, yes (laughter).

Q. What do you like about Amen Corner?

TIGER WOODS: Unpredictability. Anything can happen. You know, I've played that Amen Corner great and I've played it horrible, and if you can play that stretch there under par every day for four straight days, you're looking pretty good for the week.

Q. Is 12 as good of a par 3 --

TIGER WOODS: It's an easy par 3 if the wind is not blowing. It's a simple 8- or 9-iron or 7-iron to the back pin.

Yeah, ten mile an hour winds and it's switching all over the place; all of a sudden it becomes one of the most difficult holes because there's no room to bail out. If you misjudge, you misjudge short, you're wet. If you misjudge long, it's an unbelievably difficult pitch because you guys can't get back there; you get back there, you look at it and there's no grass back there.

It's very sandy. For some reason that grass is longer than most on the golf course so it's sandy. So you try and play bump-and-runs, it gets caught. Or you hit it too hard, other side in the water.

It's a very difficult hole once the wind blows.

Q. Yesterday Phil won and says he has a lot of confidence coming into this week. Ten years ago, Ben Crenshaw won, he didn't have much coming in. How much important is confidence on a golf course that you guys know so well?

TIGER WOODS: Well, I think when you have control over your game, you have to be very excited, especially on a golf course like this that demands control. You have to be able to control your ball all the way around for 72 straight holes. If you're coming in off of wind, more than likely you've hit it great. I'm sure Phil certainly feels that way.

Q. You talk about being close to the level of play that you had in 2000 now, if you achieve what you want to. Which will be more satisfying, to have done it the first time or to do it again?

TIGER WOODS: I'm not trying to go -- everybody is always trying to say, you can try to get back to 2000. I don't want to get back to 2000. I want to become better. I want to become better than that. That's the whole idea of making a change.

I won the Masters by 12 in '97. I changed my game. Do I want to go back to that? No, I don't. I want to become better than that and I was able to achieve that, and that's why I made this change. I've been scrutinized over the past year or so for doing that, and I'm starting to see the fruits of it now. I've got to continue down the path and continue working hard.

Q. Does this mean that the best of your career is ahead?

TIGER WOODS: I think so. I'm only 29. I'm not over the hill yet (laughter).

Q. It's been speculated that you made the change because you want something that will last you through your later years into your 40s and 50s; is that what you had in mind?

TIGER WOODS: I just wanted to get to a better level, a higher level and be more consistent day-in and day-out, simple as that.

SCOTT FORD: Last word?

TIGER WOODS: See you guys later.

SCOTT FORD: Thank you very much.

End of FastScripts.

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