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January 2, 2002

Tiger Woods


Q. Tiger, obviously you finished last year on a high note. Talk a little bit about how you're playing right now, assess your chances here this week at the Mercedes.

TIGER WOODS: Well, I think I'm making some progress on some of the things I've been working on. I'm really excited about playing. Started off a whole new year, really excited and anxious to get going. When I got here yesterday, I was kind of fired up. Today I'm even more fired up. It's good. It's a good feeling to have to know that we've all got to start from scratch and start all over again.

Q. Michael Jordan at 38 scoring 51 points, for you to do something on the golf course, what would the number have to be to equate to that 51?

TIGER WOODS: I don't know. That's a great question. Obviously, it would have to be something pretty low. I think it would be just more of a one-round occurrence. If he can sustain that kind of pace for the rest of the season, I'd be amazed, because that's a lot of physical energy to take out of him.

It would be a low number. Probably something in the 50s.

Q. Do you feel more rested coming in this year than last year?

TIGER WOODS: Without a doubt. Last year at this time I just came off of playing eight in a row. I was still worn out. Didn't have enough time off. But this year I've been able to have some breaks, get some time off. It was nice. Even though I had two weeks off, for some reason it felt longer than that. Felt like a nice break. It was great to get away from it and then come back and recharge, ready to go.

Q. Is it business as usual this year? Have you done anything radically different or is it pretty much the same thing?

TIGER WOODS: No, the same thing. Just trying to make little improvements in my swing, my overall game, fine tuning. Major reconstruction of my golf swing has already been done. Did that back in '97, '98. Now it's just fine tuning. You're going to get off every now and then, that's part of the playing the game. Need to just fine-tune it and make sure everything is firing.

Q. The year of majors, hardly anyone has played the rotation we're going to see. Can you comment on that? How does that set up for everyone?

TIGER WOODS: To be honest with you, I think it's because it's been so long since the guys have played there. I don't think a lot of guys remember which way putts break. So guys who have played it; local knowledge isn't going to come into effect. Even at Augusta, I don't think local knowledge is going to come into effect. Different clubs. Different rotation for all of us. That's good for guys that have never seen these golf courses.

Q. You've never seen Muirfield, have you?

TIGER WOODS: Never been there, no.

Q. Would you have any inclination to play Bethpage, or Muirfield or Hazeltine before the major start?

TIGER WOODS: I'll probably play Bethpage and Hazeltine before. Muirfield -- I'm not going to go all the way over there to just play a practice round.

Q. Would you cut the time you play in Ireland?

TIGER WOODS: No. Just play three rounds there, get to know it. Links courses are definitely tricky. I think the key for us that week is to make sure that we understand where we can bump the ball and understand -- hopefully we can get a chance to play in different wind conditions in the practice round. I think that would be a help for all of us.

Q. Here this week they say four days, four different wind directions. Does that help or hurt Tiger Woods?

TIGER WOODS: Well, I've played here under just about every kind of condition. I've kind of seen it all. You know, that helps because I can recollect and reflect on some of the shots I played, why I played them, how I played them. Sometimes that's an advantage. Sometimes that's not an advantage. I've hit some balls in some places that just aren't good under certain wind conditions. You do think of that.

The hard think about this golf course is that the fairways are so wide, you feel guilty for missing the fairway, you know, because they're so wide. But then when the wind crops up like this, all of a sudden they narrow up quite a bit.

Q. Other than a Links course, is there another venue you'll play all season that enables you to be as creative as you have to be here? What are the challenges of doing that the first week of the season?

TIGER WOODS: I don't think there's any other golf course that we play that's quite like this one, where you're going to have to play a lot of different kind of golf shots. I have never played Sony, so I don't know how the wind blows. I've never played that golf course, so I don't know. But here, you just understand that the wind's going to blow here and you're going to have to hit some really funky shots and some funky numbers. Then you have some awkward lies. That's part of playing this golf course. You have to understand that. I don't think there's any other tournament we play in that's like this.

Being the first tournament out of the blocks, for guys who have taken a long off season, who haven't really played a whole lot, it's going to be difficult because your feel isn't quite as good. It takes a little while to get back. Luckily I've played enough why my feel is still there.

Q. Have you ever missed a limited-field tournament for which you were eligible, and would you, TOUR Championship, Mercedes kind of thing?

TIGER WOODS: The only one I missed was the match play Australia.

Q. Were you surprised Phil is not here this week?

TIGER WOODS: You know, I am surprised, but he might be having -- I've heard a lot of different things about what's going on with his family. Whatever it is, I'm sure it's a good reason.

Q. Will your schedule for the majors be much the same as in past years, taking the week off prior? There's two weeks between the Masters and THE PLAYERS Championship this year, for example.

TIGER WOODS: Yeah, I might just take the two weeks off, whatever it is. I thoroughly enjoy taking the week off. There's a couple times where I have played up in Flint. It's been good because I've been working on my driving. You can hit a lot of drivers there. Other than that, I have a hard time taking -- playing the week before because those tournaments, somehow they take so much out of you.

The PGA Championship, the venues haven't been as demanding, the rough isn't as high, the greens aren't as fast, the wind doesn't blow quite as hard. But some of the venues we've played in the other three majors, that takes a lot out of you.

Q. No need to change a winning formula?

TIGER WOODS: I found what works best for me. A lot of that -- I've played Flint before the PGA, if I feel like I need to, if I have to, to get ready for the PGA. Some years I don't. That's just worked, as well. I've played that tournament and won the PGA and I've played it and -- haven't played it and won. I've done it both ways.

Q. What's the best thing you got for your birthday, Tiger?

TIGER WOODS: Best thing I got? I got a few gag gifts that are pretty funny.

Q. Do you set specific goals for 2002? Have you sat down as far as majors and wins and given yourself numbers?

TIGER WOODS: No. Just every time I play, to win. If I'm doing that, I'd have a pretty good season.

Q. Your schedule in tournaments, not the majors, but the other events, will it remain the same? You've talked in the past about possibly changing, going some new places.

TIGER WOODS: Yeah, I'd like to play some new events. This year's schedule might allow me to do that. We'll see how it works out.

Q. Is Houston a possibility at this point?

TIGER WOODS: It is. It's definitely a possibility. I'm not saying yes or no to it. A lot of it depends on the energy level that I have at that time of year because obviously I'm going to play a lot on the West Coast like I always do, play Bay Hill and The Players, see how I feel after that.

Q. Byron Nelson is turning 90 this year. Can you talk about what he's meant to you?

TIGER WOODS: He's been great. He's written me some nice letters. I'll never forget when he pulled me aside at Belair, he was there for the Friends of Golf Charity day. He pulled me aside and just said -- basically gave his opinion on my game and things that might be pitfalls in the future, what I should do. For him to say things like that, I was pretty impressionable, a really young kid, a guy I idolized, he didn't have to do that. It really touched me. Every year I look forward to getting to Augusta, sitting down, having dinner with him, talking to him.

It's amazing how sharp he is, the things that he remembers. He'll tell you shots he hit in 1936 (laughter).

Q. Has that helped in terms of you playing that event every year?

TIGER WOODS: Without a doubt. Mr. Nelson, as I said, has been one of my role models all my life. I try to support him the best way I possibly can.

Q. Obviously you haven't played Bethpage, but what do you know about it? What have you heard about it?

TIGER WOODS: You know, I've only seen what you guys have shown on TV. That's about it. I know they've lengthened it quite a bit. I don't know if it's hilly or not, or the greens are pretty severe. What I've been told, the greens are pretty severe. I don't know what kind of pin locations have. All I have is: US Open, you know it's going to be tough. The fairways are going to be narrow, the greens are going to be hard and firm. Out there on Long Island, serious wind. US Open setup, a lot of wind. You've seen that at Shinnecock, how tough it can play.

Q. Do you see the 2002 season unfolding like others or do you see new story lines, young guns? What do you see?

TIGER WOODS: You really don't know till it actually happens. Obviously there is a lot of talent out there, a new generation of players coming out. Some of the older guys that I've seen and watched as a kid are still playing well, are starting to get their games back, play at a higher level now. It's kind of neat.

I guess I consider myself part of the young crowd.

Q. Would it be strange for you not to start here, if you had to miss the tournament?

TIGER WOODS: It would be a little bit different (laughter). It would be a little bit different. Hopefully that doesn't happen.

Q. This is one that you can sort of take for granted?

TIGER WOODS: Yeah, you know, you kind of do. When it was played at La Costa, you just automatically put it on the calendar. You start realizing that you need to play well in order to get here. When you get here, I think that's when you really appreciate the year you had, because in order to get here you had to have played well and won obviously an event. But the field you play against here is pretty tough. You know that going in.

Q. If you could only pick one tournament you could win, La Costa or Nissan, which one?

TIGER WOODS: La Costa or Nissan?

Q. Yes.

TIGER WOODS: Probably La Costa.

Q. Money aside, any other reasons?

TIGER WOODS: No, just beating the -- I thoroughly enjoy match play, I love match play. I haven't played in a couple years. I'm really looking forward going head to head against somebody. We do it in The Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. Single part doesn't happen until Sunday. To be able to play against somebody starting out, then you advance, you look at your bracket, it's pretty cool.

Q. Of all the new World Golf Championship events, does that one contain a bit more prestige because of the difference and style? Does it mean more to you maybe than others?

TIGER WOODS: I think it's more exciting because it's a different format. Knowing that you have the top 64 players, all you have to do is beat six guys, which is different instead of beating the entire field. You just have to beat six guys. In match play, anything can happen. Shoot 6-under-par, 7-under-par, pack your bags. Anything can happen. That's one of the exciting things about it. That's what has happened. Big guys have gotten upset by players that don't have the same type of resume. In an 18-hole match, that's what happens.

Q. In tournaments you've played and have won, those two stand out as ones that aren't on your record yet, Nissan and the other. Are there others we don't know about? Are those two pretty much it?

TIGER WOODS: Those are events obviously I would like to win. One is a different format, the other is my hometown, where I grew up. First golf tournament I ever went to, watching pros. Those two would be neat to have on my resumes.

Q. Pick those instead of majors?

TIGER WOODS: (Laughter).

Q. David Duval was griping about the greens at Pebble last year. Would that be enough to keep you away?

TIGER WOODS: Jerry and I have a great time there. I'll play there as long as Jerry wants to play there. We're best friends - have been great friends since I was 9 and he was 11. It's a fun event. I look forward to it every year with Jerry. I've been very lucky to play with obviously Kevin. Probably the most special one is with my dad when he was healthy enough to play. That was probably to me the highlight of that event that I had, a chance to walk down the fairways with my pops inside the ropes, watch him play, have a great time. He was struggling, too. His health wasn't very good. He sucked it up like he always does. He's a tough guy. I know he wasn't feeling too good, but he hung in there.

Q. Lost the goatee.

TIGER WOODS: Told you I was going to shave it off.

Q. In five years since you won the Masters, it will be five, have you noticed, can you tell, has there been much done as far as getting minority players into the game? What is the biggest obstacle? Obviously with your foundation, that's been terrific. What is the biggest obstacle now in that area?

TIGER WOODS: I definitely see a dramatic improvement the there's a lot of kids playing. It's going to take time because you need a base to work from. You need a lot of kids. If you want to have somebody come out here and actually be part of the PGA TOUR, you're going to have to have a big base. Obviously it's going to start weeding out the higher you go, level of play.

As I've gone around the country, done my clinics with my foundation, the kids, their technique is getting so much better at a younger age. I never had that kind of technique when I was a kid. They're hitting it further than I ever did. We're now seeing -- for instance, I was able to hit golf balls next to a kid 17 years old hitting it by me because he was a football player. He loves golf more than football. He'd much rather go out and play golf than football.

I think that's what you're going to start seeing, guys that are truly athletic, not the kids that don't have the physical gifts, the kids that have the physical gifts, instead of going to other sports, playing basketball, being like Michael Jordan, running track like Carl Lewis, they're going to be out here playing golf. Pretty special.

Q. Is price still the biggest thing?

TIGER WOODS: Access. Access is always going to be the huge dilemma in our sport. That's been part of the game. It's inherently part of the game. There are courses that are opening up, foundations that are working towards that, First Tee and my foundation. You need to find it. That's the hard part. Once you find it, then the kids will start to improve and have a place to play. But you need to go out there and do the legwork, find a place to do that.

Q. (Inaudible)?

TIGER WOODS: Great for him. It's going to hurt our program, obviously, because he's done tremendous things there. I got a chance to know him my last year at Stanford. He was such a nice guy. He really is. He's a true gentleman. Loves golf. Always has to play. He's going to really hem them, the Notre Dame program, no doubt.

Q. You also got to know Walsh.

TIGER WOODS: Very good.

Q. Anything those two gentlemen, what they imparted on you on that age?

TIGER WOODS: Mr. Walsh and I used to sit down and talk for hours in his office. We used to talk about anything and everything. He was kind of like a mentor. He kind of took me under his wing a little bit, basically described some of the pitfalls he faced with his athletes in football and what led them down the wrong path, what led them down the correct path. It was nice to be able to run things by him like that anytime. I was able to call him at home if I wanted to run something by him, anything. It was great to be able to have that.

Q. Of the four majors to win, which is the hardest?

TIGER WOODS: The hardest? Probably the US Open. The conditions are probably the most difficult, narrowest fairways, highest roughs, fastest greens, and the golf course changes every year.

Q. That said, do you think it's an easier event for you to win or more difficult?

TIGER WOODS: If you're playing well, it's an easier event to win. If you're not playing well, you're down the road pretty quick.

Q. Did you learn anything at Southern Hills that you might incorporate into the US Open future preparation?

TIGER WOODS: I just didn't play well. I wasn't hitting the ball well off the tees. I was kind of struggling with my driving. I wasn't able to shape the ball correctly. That golf course, more so than most US Open courses, you had to shape the shots and keep the ball on the fairway. I was pretty one-dimensional that week, tried to get away with it. Wasn't able to do it.

End of FastScripts....

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