January 7, 2004
THE MODERATOR: We'll get started. I'd like to welcome Tiger Woods into the interview room here at the Mercedes Championship. Thanks for coming by, spending a few minutes with us.
TIGER WOODS: You got it.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations on your fifth straight Player of the Year title. Welcome back to Kapalua. You've obviously had some success winning here in '97 and 2000. Can you talk a little bit about your game right now.
TIGER WOODS: Well, I feel like my game is -- I'm pretty excited about it, the things I was working on towards the end of last year. I had some good, positive things happen at the Target World Challenge there. I showed some good signs in my practice sessions leading up to this week. So I'm pretty excited about it.
We'll see how the weather is.
THE MODERATOR: Obviously, the course has gotten a lot of rain. Can you comment on the conditions?
TIGER WOODS: Well, the fairways are great. The fairways are as good as they normally are. They're a little bit softer. Obviously, we're hitting probably one or two clubs more to the greens. I think the biggest thing is that the greens are faster than what we're usually used to. They're softer, but they actually are faster because I think they've scalped them down where there's not as much grass on the greens. It's going to be quite interesting to see what happens.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions.
Q. How much work did you get in before coming here?
TIGER WOODS: Actually, quite a bit. I probably took maybe a week off right after Target, started working on my game, getting ready, trying to get the game ready for the season.
Q. You mentioned you had been working on -- particularly on some things.
TIGER WOODS: Yes, just trying to maintain my levels, my lines, on my downswing, something that I found really worked well at AMEX. I played really well there. Just tried to stick with the same keys, trying to get a little more efficient. Towards the end of last year, basically from AMEX on, I really played some pretty good golf.
The Presidents Cup I played a little sporadically. But when I played in the singles against Ernie, I really played well, like I had in previous weeks. It was nice to see the signs of building on something. Then I went to Target, really played well in spurts there, but again it was more sustained than, let's say it was at Disney or even The Presidents Cup. So I was building on something, which is nice.
Q. How is Isleworth?
TIGER WOODS: Long.
Q. You played there?
TIGER WOODS: December 16th. I played there a few times there.
TIGER WOODS: 75, 44 is what it is, with probably too much sand in the bunkers, because tee shots are burying in the sand.
Q. How long was it closed?
TIGER WOODS: It closed Monday of Augusta and opened December 16th.
Q. Any kind of a nuisance, whatever you want to call it, not being able to play when you wanted to at home?
TIGER WOODS: You can go play over at Kings Point, right down the street. I hit over there. Or we went over and played the Ritz Carlton a few times. But we basically played those two courses. Sometimes we play Orange Tree. Had some good gambling matches out there.
Q. Out there with the general public?
TIGER WOODS: Yes.
Q. How do you get to the first tee without getting pounded?
TIGER WOODS: We play early, as usual (smiling).
Q. Ernie and Davis were in here yesterday kind of talking about how they think the gap has closed a little bit between you and some of the other players. Just your reaction to that. You're obviously No. 1. They say you're still the man to beat. But do you see guys coming in and closing in on you a little more now?
TIGER WOODS: I see guys are taking fitness a little bit more seriously. They're working a little bit harder on their games than they had in the past.
Davis and I were talking about that this morning actually. He's starting to work out for the first time. Guys are doing things a little differently. It's only going to improve their games. And I'm trying to do the same thing, trying to improve my game.
Have they closed the gap? I don't know. I feel as if when I'm playing well, I'm tough to beat.
Q. Does it matter how big the gap is, if there's a gap?
TIGER WOODS: I look at it this way: if I'm playing well, I like to take my chances against anybody. That's the way I've always felt when I've played well. Obviously, when I'm not playing well, anybody can beat me - even you (smiling).
Q. From the fitness perspective, what do you think of what you've done to Darren Clark?
TIGER WOODS: You know, we've been on him for years about it because back in -- what year did he beat me? -- 2000 in the Match Play?
TIGER WOODS: You know, he had a tough time. He beat me pretty easily in the final, but he was actually really tired. And playing in a 36-hole final, you shouldn't be that tired. I said, "Darren, granted you beat the crap out of me that day, but you should not be this tired." You can't sustain this the very next week, you'll be out of energy the next week. If you play four weeks in a row, how are you going to do that? With his schedule, playing in Europe, playing in the States, he's going to run out of energy.
You know, it took him a little while to get over that. He started to work out. He's lost some pounds.
Q. He lost 30 pounds.
TIGER WOODS: Yeah. But the good thing is, though, you know, it's one thing to go on a diet and lose weight. A lot of people do that. But they don't actually gain strength. Darren is doing it the proper way. He's doing it through nutrition as well as exercise. He's actually gaining some muscle mass, so he's getting longer, while losing weight, which is the proper way to do it.
It takes time. I saw him yesterday out there working with his trainer. He was working pretty hard. It's good to see.
Q. Last year when you started, it was a little later at Buick, you came out, from what you said to us, you were not sure of how your leg was, how your knee was. How is it this year? How do you feel coming into this year versus last year? Do you have any apprehensions, different goals?
TIGER WOODS: That's the biggest thing, I have no apprehensions. Last year, physically I didn't know where I was. I'd only started hitting driver I think about three days prior to the tournament, they allowed me to hit driver. So I had no clue what was going on with my game. Only thing I knew is my short game was pretty good, because I spent a lot of time at that.
This year I got a chance to work on my entire game, work on every aspect of it, so there's no apprehension from that regard.
I'm excited this year to start, just like I was last year. But I know how the knee is going to hold up now.
Q. When you say you're excited, do you also have different expectations of this year than you did last year?
TIGER WOODS: No, the same.
Q. I think I read or saw an interview where you talked about swing flaws creeping in at the end of '02? Was that related to the knee?
TIGER WOODS: It was, definitely. The more the knee hurt, the more I'd have to make alterations in the swing to try and basically make solid contact. The more alterations I made, the more distance I lost, because I was actually moving away from the ball a lot, slowing down, trying not to make it hurt.
The days -- I said, "I'm taking the pain killers this day," I could go ahead and let it go. That night the knee would blow up. I would say, "Why did you do that for?"
Q. Did that kind of get some flaws into '03?
TIGER WOODS: I definitely had to work on it to try to get out of it. Then the problem was that I had a limited ball count for about four or five months after I came back, started playing. I really couldn't work out there for hours upon hours on my game to try and eliminate the flaws. I had to spend less time and be more focused on what I was doing, try and get out of it that way.
It was a little bit more difficult than I was used to.
Q. So where are you starting '04 compared to the end of '02 swing-wise?
TIGER WOODS: A lot better, yeah.
Q. Playing well, in last year's majors, the first three, if I can remember, one or two shots, a four-putt, a bad ball, hurt you. Do you consider yourself playing well if you make maybe one bad or killer shot a round or do you have to be perfect to be playing well, where you don't do anything to ruin your round?
TIGER WOODS: No, your poor shots. Obviously, when you're playing well, your good shots are always going to be good. But it's how bad are your poor shots? When I'm really playing well, my poor shots are in the fairway. Instead of being 10 feet, they may be 25 feet. So I still got birdie opportunities. I feel like, yeah, I hit a bad shot, but it's still in play, it's on the green, and I got a birdie opportunity to make the putt.
Q. You're not in the trees?
TIGER WOODS: I'm not in the trees, not over other fairways, saying, "How you doing? Can I play through? I know where the pin is on this, I already played it." When I play well, I don't see other guys on other holes (smiling).
Q. Being a former child prodigy yourself, do you have any words about Michelle Wie playing next week? Do you have any sage advice to give her?
TIGER WOODS: Actually, I saw her today. I met her for the first time today. It's just pretty neat. I didn't realize she's taller than I am (laughter). Oh, man.
But, no, I think it's pretty neat that she's playing. I wished her all the luck in the world, and I hope she goes out there and plays her game.
I think it's good experience to obviously move up and play against people who are better than you. You do learn that way. But I also look at the philosophy, too, you need to play and win, too, learn the art of winning. My dad was a big believer in that. We didn't really move up from junior golf to maybe -- let's say local junior golf, I didn't go nationally until I was playing well enough to win consistently at the junior level in my own Orange County. Then when I went nationally, I didn't play amateur golf until I was able to win consistently. So I learned the art of winning.
I think that's what she needs to try to do, because she's won one tournament, which is a big tournament, women's Publinx, but I think there's a certain art to winning. If you can instill that early on, I think you're going to have more of a successful career. Mickelson did exactly the same thing. He won at each and every level. Actually, he dominated at each and every level. When he came out here, he knew he could win. I felt the same way.
Q. She says also she studies videotapes of your press conferences because she wants to learn from you, how you handle the media.
TIGER WOODS: I think that's well and good, but I think it's also experience, too. I got a lot of information, a lot of help from Jordan, Grezt, a lot of those guys. But, you know, I had to go through the learning curve. I had to develop relationships with you guys, learn from my mistakes. I made countless mistakes when I first came out here. You had to learn the lessons the hard way.
You can get all the help in the world, but you're going to make some mistakes.
Q. What are your thoughts about the system for the voluntary testing of the drivers? Is it going to make a difference?
TIGER WOODS: I don't know if it's going to make a difference, but at least we have a testing implemented. Now, I think obviously in the future it might change, but this is a nice, positive step in the right direction.
Q. Are you going to bring your driver in?
TIGER WOODS: Stevie is doing it right now.
Q. You're the only one. Does that surprise you? You're the first and only one to do it. Does that surprise you?
TIGER WOODS: Not really, no. Because it is voluntary.
Q. Arnold is playing in his 50th and allegedly last Masters. Do you have any thoughts, recollections about playing a practice round with him?
TIGER WOODS: I have probably two. I had a pretty neat experience. I was 19, my first Masters. It was Wednesday. I wrote a letter to Jack and Arnold, whether I could play with them in a practice round. They said yes. I joined them on Wednesday afternoon. We played all 18 holes in a Skins Game. Arnold birdied the last hole, took all the skins (smiling). We were walking off the green. Jack, said, "Typical Arnie."
I was going to go up there and have lunch in the Crow's Nest. They said, "Would you like to join us in a par 3 contest?" I thought, "This is great." I went over there, had a great time playing the par 3 contest.
Probably the entire year -- you know, I wasn't a very good iron player at the time. I was across the line, couldn't control any of my distances. You saw that. On the 9th hole of the par 3 contest, Arnold hits it in there stiff, Jack hits it in there stiff. They're both about two feet. Now I got to hit. The crowd is high-fiving, roaring. I'm thinking, "I know I'm going to put it in the water." I hit it up on the green. One of the highlights, because I knew if I could handle that, I could handle the rest of the tournament. So the tournament seemed a lot easier because of that one little moment. Arnold is high-fiving me, telling me, "Great job, you can do it."
The last one, what we thought was his last Masters, Mark and I and Arnold played in the par 3 contest again. That was pretty cool. Arnold hit one of those typical shots of his, just got the follow-through going, staring at it. It hits in the water. He said, "Where did that go?" He was just posing on it (laughter). "Where did that go?"
"It's in the water, Arnie."
"Oh, all right."
Q. Is there any point having the club testing if it's voluntary?
TIGER WOODS: It's a step, as I said, a step in the right direction. At least we have something implemented. It's a red light, green light situation. They're not going to give you the exact number, which I think is the right thing to do. If you gave the exact number of what your driver is, guys will take four or five drivers up there and take the hottest one. So it's the right thing to do with the red light, green light. But at least it's a step. At least we have something now that we can go to.
Q. Your thoughts on the major venues this year, how they set up for you?
TIGER WOODS: I've played every one except for Whistling Straits. I haven't played there. From what I hear, that could be probably our toughest one of the four.
Q. How long have you had your current putting style? When you perceive yourself not to be making putts.
TIGER WOODS: Say that again.
Q. How long have you had your current putting style, routine? When you aren't making putts, how do you go about trying to fix that? Who do you talk to?
TIGER WOODS: First of all, the second part, how I fix it, I basically have a checklist of things I go to that I usually work on. Obviously, balance, posture, alignment. Then if it's not in your setup, what is it in my stroke that's causing it? It might be grip pressure, right hand might be too low, too far up on top. Left hand might be the same, too strong, too weak. You kind of fool around with it and eventually you start feeling something that makes the ball come off solidly every time. I'll go with it from there.
Q. Do you have someone that you speak about that?
TIGER WOODS: No.
Q. Another player, perhaps?
A. No. Sometimes I'll talk to my dad about it.
Q. Is putting the most personal aspect of the game?
TIGER WOODS: Without a doubt. You can hit hook putts like Bobby Locke, Crenshaw hooks putts, you can cut putts like Raymond does. I'll never forget when I played with Crenshaw the first time, Lynn was caddying for him. I saw him -- they were reading the putt. I had exactly the same line. I had to move my marker a foot shorter than his from about 10 feet. He said, "Outside of the right edge of the ball." I swore it was not outside the hole. He made it. I'm looking at this putt. "That's inside the hole. I don't know where he saw this." He's one of the best putters ever. I said, "Okay, if he said it."
I went ahead and hit it missed it outside the right. Lynn came up to me on the next hole and said, "Wherever you hear us read putts, don't listen to us because he hooks every putt." I've seen him hit so many putts. I just watch him and we read it that way.
It's very interesting. Stevie had to make an adjustment when he came over from Raymond to me because Raymond cuts his putts.
Q. Raymond's style is different from yours.
TIGER WOODS: Just how his putts roll. Raymond would normally play it outside the left. I'd play it inside, just because of the way we roll putts.
Q. Do you put pressure on yourself when you're not putting well to hit it closer? Are you able to still play your game and take the putts?
TIGER WOODS: You try. You try to play your game. But I think deep down it does put a little bit of pressure on you, just a touch. You try to relieve that by saying, "Let's just put it on the green, 2-putt, get out of here." You try to take care of the par 5s. You try and relieve your pressure somewhere else. With my length, I should be able to handle the par 5s with one, two, three birdies, something like that.
Q. When you had the knee injury, you practiced your short game, I assume a lot was putting, did you ever try any other style, or just improving the style you have had for X amount of years? How long do you think you've putted the way you've putted? Is it 10 years?
TIGER WOODS: With the same type?
Q. Just the same posture, stroke.
TIGER WOODS: The only thing I've changed is probably my practice stroke. You'll see my posture has changed over time, whether I'm playing in wind, whatever. I might widen or narrow my stance because that's the way it works that week.
But the interesting thing is I changed probably my practice strokes from three to two just because I felt like I was taking too long when they put the clock on us. When they put the clock on us, taking three practice strokes, it just starts to get to me mentally, that I don't think I have enough time to hit the putt, give it the correct alignment. I changed it from three to two. That's the only thing I've changed. Same look, same amount of looks, same rhythm. You put a clock on me, it's the same.
Q. Arnold has hit four thousand putters in his life. How many do you think you've had so far?
TIGER WOODS: I had an Answer 2 for four or five years. Then I putted with an Odyssey in college for maybe six months. Then a Cameron for the rest of the time in college. Then I had that black one when I first turned pro. Now this one. I don't switch very often. I've played every single round since the Byron Nelson of '99 with the same putter.
Q. Speaking of '99, you've been No. 1 since '99. The No. 2s have changed. Currently it's Vijay Singh. I think he's 40 years old now. What are the thoughts when you look at the world rankings? Did it surprise you? Do you think he'll continue being this good?
TIGER WOODS: It will be neat to see. I always wondered, I mean, how he can hold up physically. I think we all do. How he can hit that many golf balls and not get some type of injury really. The only time he's really been injured was last year, right, beginning of the year, with the rib thing. That was about it. It's pretty remarkable, he hit that many golf balls, never be sore, injured or anything. He does it every day. It's impressive.
I guess if you build up a tolerance to it, it's like everything else.
Q. What do you recall about Troon and Shinnecock? One you played when you didn't have very good distance control, and another one you didn't play very long at all.
TIGER WOODS: Correct.
Q. What are your thoughts on them? Which do you think will be the toughest major of the three that you know about?
TIGER WOODS: It's hard to say because it's all dependent on weather. We have yet to see Augusta dry since the new changes, since they really lengthened it. Shinnecock, if it blows like it did in '86, we'll be shooting over par. You know, over par would probably win that tournament easily. Probably one of the easiest nine holes you ever play in a major championship going out if it's downwind, right to left. It's probably the hardest nine holes when it's coming back in your face left to right, every single shot.
I guess one of the positive things I remember about Troon is I shot 64, I believe, in the third round, tied the competitive course record there with Norman, which I was pretty excited about it. Put me in a position to where if I played another good, solid round, might have had a chance to win. I didn't do it, obviously. Some good, positive memories.
Q. If you could pick one tournament to win this year, non-major, which one? The hole at Troon, things were going along--
TIGER WOODS: Postage stamp. I played sand castle in there (laughter). I just couldn't get it out of there. I think it's probably the Player's, I guess.
Q. Yesterday Davis mentioned 2000. Your arguably best year ever as a professional golfer. Do you think that's attainable now, that kind of year, A, with your game, and B, with the competition that's out here now?
TIGER WOODS: If I play well, as I said, I like my chances. It's just a matter of playing well. That year I really played well (smiling).
You know, people don't realize how many lucky breaks I was getting, too. I hit so many bad shots that turned out great. I can tell you, there were three shots I hit at St. Andrews that should have been in the bunkers. Either bounced out, got a good kick off the knob, went around the bunker. Firestone, when I played well, I think it was either Friday or Saturday, hit a couple balls in the trees, kicked back out into the fairway, made birdies on both of them. Good things were happening. I was just taking advantage of absolutely every single opportunity.
It was just a snowball effect.
Q. Do you think we'll ever see another year like 2000?
TIGER WOODS: Hopefully, yeah.
Q. Do you think you can do it?
TIGER WOODS: Hopefully this year (smiling).
Q. Do you think there's anyone else that can do that out here?
TIGER WOODS: I don't know.
Q. With your swing, when you work on your swing, have you reached a point where you're almost self-reliant? How often do you depend on someone else to look at your swing?
TIGER WOODS: Not that often. I kind of know what I'm doing, either through videotape and ball flight. It's basically ball flight. Ball flight tells you everything. Over the years, from working on my golf swing, you start to learn what causes what. For me, a lot of it starts right in the setup. Once I get the setup right, it's usually a take away. You take it step by step.
But a lot of my faults start right at address. If I get my address position correctly, everything postured right, then the swing will happen naturally.
Q. People speculated for years about if you ever got married, had a family, the impact it might have on your career. I want to hear what your opinion is now on how that may or may not impact your focus, drive, long-term.
TIGER WOODS: Well, I think getting engaged and getting married doesn't really change anything. I think the biggest thinking change is when you bring another life into this world. They're completely dependent on you. That's a big responsibility, and one that I know Elin and I will take very seriously. I think that will be the biggest adjustment to my time management.
As you know, I don't sleep well anyway, so I'll be up anyways all night (laughter). Doesn't really change from that aspect.
Q. If you want somebody to check out your swing, so-called second set of eyes, who do you ask?
TIGER WOODS: Usually just videotape now, yeah.
Q. Mark O'Meara?
TIGER WOODS: Some. We basically help each other. Since I moved down there, '97.
Q. Do you think there might be a time when you latch on with an instructor, Butch or somebody else? Have you given any thought to that?
TIGER WOODS: I haven't, no. I haven't reached a point where I really need a pair of eyes when I'm really struggling that badly, where I need some help. I'm sure there will be a point in my career, yeah, I probably will reach that point. But hopefully I can figure it out between now and then.
Q. What is your status with Butch? He no longer works with you?
TIGER WOODS: No.
Q. That's severed, ended?
TIGER WOODS: Yes.
Q. Is there a shot yet that you'd like to hit right now that you can't hit? Any one shot you'd like to add to your arsenal?
TIGER WOODS: Huh-uh (smiling).
THE MODERATOR: Tiger, thanks for coming by. Good luck this week.
TIGER WOODS: You got it. No problem.
End of FastScripts.